Europe 2016: Finding Netherlands (Part 2)

Oct 5, 2016

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Why Amsterdam? You would think. I have plenty of other European cities to choose from, everything’s a plane away from Stockholm anyway, but why Amsterdam? Five words: The Fault In Our Stars. And I dream of visiting all the places I only get to imagine while reading my books.

I also Googled Holland, and why the people in Netherlands are called Dutch. It’s a long story, so I’ll leave you the reading.

I left the hotel at around 930am. As soon as I woke up and while I ate the sandwich I bought in Stockholm, I plotted on map the places I would visit that day. Museumplein (the museum area) is just walking distance from Owl Hotel, so I went there, just in time for Van Gogh Museum’s opening hours.

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I’m not really a museum-type person, and the only Van Gogh painting I know is The Starry Night. But it’s worth visiting, not just because I have free entrances to museums (or rather I paid for it in advance) because of my iAmsterdam card, but because Van Gogh‘s life is very interesting (but sad). He only became a world famous artist after he died. Throughout his life, he suffered from mental illness, depression and poverty.

I asked a security personnel where The Starry Night is, and he told me it was in Museum of Modern Art in New York. You would think all of Van Gogh’s creations should be in Van Gogh Museum, but no.

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The museum is basically 3 floors of Van Gogh’s art, grouped chronologically. You can also read his life story as you walk along while observing his artworks. Many visitors rent an audio guide to accompany their tour. There were also many students here, taking notes.

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Inside Van Gogh Museum. How cool is it that you can actually see the ground level outside?

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The other side of the museum.

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Concert Gebouw just around Museumplein

After Van Gogh Museum, I headed for Rijksmuseum, which is the top 1 must-visit place in Amsterdam according to Trip Advisor.

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The noisy kids gathering around the I amsterdam sign

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This is strongly reminiscent of the lights we have in our office cafeteria.

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Rijksmuseum is not included in the free entrances provided by iAmsterdam card, but there’s a discount, so I shelled out 13 EUR for this.

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The museum is HUGE, though certainly not Louvre-huge. It houses interesting pieces of paintings and stuff from different eras.

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A 36-carat Banjarmasin diamond from Borneo, declared Dutch state property

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Reminds me of Queen Elsa’s palace interiors

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There’s a whole section dedicated to Rembrandt – one of the most celebrated Dutch artists.

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The library of my dreams

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A very detailed doll house

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“Earthenware” violin made for decorative purposes only

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I left Rijksmuseum at around 2pm and starving. So I got a hotdog sandwich filled to the brim with delicious sauerkraut and crispy onions from one of the hotdog stands outside the museum. I sat on a bench and ate while enjoying the view and the sun’s warmth. It was a particularly windy and chilly day, and I stupidly wore a flowy dress. Underneath, my leg-high stockings decided to roll down, and it made me extremely uncomfortable while walking. So please, when doing tour, do yourself a favor and wear your most comfortable outfit.

I decided to go to PC Hoofstraat to check the Longchamp store there, because I had to buy another bag for a friend. Also, I went inside a store by the name of Wolford, to buy proper leggings for myself.

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PC Hoofstraat is home for designer goods.

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I never thought I was about to buy my most expensive piece of clothing in my entire wardrobe. Probably even more expensive than all my clothes combined, I guess. Nope. That’s an exaggeration. So what happened is, I saw leggings ok. I was desperate, because it was friggin’ cold and my stockings kept on rolling down my knees. The thing is, they have the more affordable leggings, but are thin, so won’t do the job. I requested for the thicker leggings, I initially saw 9 EUR price tags. Fair enough. The crews were busy because they were doing a sort of training, and the head saleslady attended to me and even accompanied me to their oh-so-fancy fitting room. I said I’m gonna take it, and that I will wear it right then, so I headed to the counter to pay. The POS said 90 EUR. Say what? I checked the price tag and cursed that faded zero at the right of number 9. WTH, that was clearly fraud right? Or was that my poor eyesight? I asked the lady who looked like Celine Dion, so it’s 90 and not 9 EUR? She said, yes, the thin ones cost 9 EUR. What was I to do? I was already wearing the freaking thing, so I handed them my boyfriend’s credit card. At that moment, I felt like I reached my peak stupidity. What could be more stupid than that? I thought of all the things I could buy with that PHP 5000 instead – heck, that was even more expensive than my roundtrip flight to Amsterdam. I already had plans for the leggings, in my mind either I will have it framed for display in our house, or use it everyday to justify the cost. No one in their right mind buys a 90 EUR – leggings. Probably the Kardashians. Indeed, the brand Wolford, I learned later on, is typically worn by celebrities. But I’m just a peasant, so sorry for the endless rants. This is my biggest blooper in the trip.

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After accepting the reality, I headed to one of the canal boat terminals for my canal cruise, which was included in the iAmsterdam card. Bought a coke while waiting for the tour to start. Like in our Paris bus tour, this boat provided earphones and had audio system in place for the recorded tour guides.

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The canal cruise lasted for about an hour. It was in the afternoon – not really a good idea because of the sun, but overall I enjoyed it. It started from the terminal opposite Hard Rock Cafe Amsterdam, to Jordaan, at the back of Amsterdam Centraal, to NEMO Science Museum, then back to the starting point.

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After the cruise, I walked to Leidsegracht to see if I can find the bench from The Fault In Out Stars movie, where Hazel and Gus sat down.

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A very beautiful afternoon

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And of course I found it. I knew that was “the bench” because of the love locks and graffiti left by my fellow brothers and sisters in fandom.

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I know this is just a bench but believe me, I think that was the highlight of my day. LOL.

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The scene from The Fault In Our Stars

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Forgive my miserable face. Okay? Okay.

Stay tuned for part 3! One more post about Amsterdam, which caps off my series for Europe 2016… After that, I’ll be writing about our trip to Japan.

 

Europe 2016: Finding Netherlands (Part 1)

Oct 4, 2016

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In front of Rijksmuseum

My whole Europe trip was full of bloopers, but most of it probably happened during my Amsterdam trip. Upon writing this piece I’m still laughing at how I managed to pull off some Bridget Jones moments in my life and actually survived.

We arrived at our place in Stockholm around 1am of October 4, after a 2.5-hour flight from Paris and a 40-minute bus ride from Arlanda Airport to Stockholm Central. Rean had to go to work the following morning, and I had to prepare for my 630pm flight to Amsterdam. Also, my hotel (Quentin Golden Bear) cancelled my reservation that morning so I booked another (Owl Hotel).

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Carrying my purple bag and small luggage, I bought a Flygbussarna ticket (Stockholm airport’s coach/bus) and hopped on the bus to take me to Arlanda Airport Terminal 5. Bought a mozzarella baguette sandwich and Fanta from Wayne’s Coffee, which I didn’t consume, then boarded the jam-packed Norwegian plane (Europe’s best low-cost airline). The flight was during sunset. I was amused with the onboard wifi.

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I was nervous about this trip because I knew I’m gonna get lost as soon as I exit the bus from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. Not to mention that I was traveling alone, therefore would be walking alone in the evening to find my hotel. You probably know that the city legalized prostitution and marijuana, but I took solace in knowing that Amsterdam is one of the safest places for solo female travelers, and that my hotel is situated far from the red-light district.

I headed to the airport tourist center to exchange my pre-booked 2-day iAmsterdam Card (unlimited rides for selected public transpo companies and free/discounted museum entrances) and to buy a Region Travel Card (for Old Holland trip outside Amsterdam, and unlimited Connexxion bus rides).

My travel cheat sheet said I should hop on Connexxion bus 197 (a.k.a Amsterdam Airport Express) and get off at Leidseplein. I handed a 5-euro bill to the driver, because I forgot that I can use the Region Travel Card for this. Oops, blooper no. 1.

I was getting more nervous during the ride. It was very dark outside and I rarely saw people on the streets. It was just minutes after 9pm. In my mind I was praying my bus stop would not be deserted and would show some signs of life. I got off at Leidseplein, looked around, and accepted the inevitable: man, I will be lost AF. I saw like a total of 4 people, it was dark and chilly and quiet. With the goal of finding Owl Hotel and having not much choice, I just walked. I saw two men walking, so I decided to follow them, because “people are better than no people”. They looked at me and my noisy rolling luggage. Then they turned right to a dark park. Guess what? I freaking followed. And when they stepped over the bush and sat down facing a canal like they would have a picnic, I immediately realized they probably have business behind that bush and I have to turn around very quickly. Blooper no. 2.

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Amsterdam is often referred to as the “Venice of the North” because of these canals that make up the city.

“Okay, stay positive and keep on walking. Where are the freaking street signs?!” I was looking for Vondelstraat and according to my screenshot of Google map it shouldn’t be that far from the bus stop. I realized I was walking on a loop, because I returned to the spot on the other side of the canal, opposite the “bush men” who were doing, well, I don’t know and I shouldn’t care. Thank heavens I saw a traffic aide, and a Pinay who was passing by. They pointed me to the direction of Leidseplein square, which I should have found earlier hadn’t I followed the freaking “bush men”.

I found hope when I saw night life kicking in the square. Yes! People! This is not the red-light district, just a typical place with all the restaurants, cafes, bars, night-dwellers and party-goers. I needed Internet and coffee so I went inside Starbucks. I quickly emailed Owl Hotel to inform them that I was lost and looking for their location. The barista told me there’s a nearby taxi stand, so I went there and showed the drivers my map. They just laughed at me. They said I can reach it within 3 minutes by walking. So I cheerfully walked to the direction they said.

You know what? I have always assumed I’m good at directions, that that is my strength, but probably not in Amsterdam. After 10 minutes, I found myself in a deserted street. Again. Cursing under my breath, I got my internet-less iPhone and opened Maps. The thing is, nobody told me it can track my location even though it was on Flight Mode and had no internet. I searched for Owl Hotel, and indeed it was near where I was standing.

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I walked the red path after getting off at the bus stop. I probably burned 500 calories just by walking that loop. From Leidseplein, after asking probably about 10 different people for directions, somehow I still took the longer way. The next day, I found out that the blue path was the right way. You simply cross the street from the bus stop. And not follow strangers to the bush. Oh well.

To sum it up, I reached Owl Hotel at around 11pm. Welcome to Amsterdam!

 

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The friendly Asian receptionists greeted me and handed me my room key. Apparently they are used to guests getting lost. It was my first time seeing an old elevator with manual door. Finally, I reached my room and was greeted by a lovely sight.

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My freaking bed!!! And a copy of a Claude Monet art.

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The room is clean, though I didn’t like the location of the bathroom and TV, the dark carpet and red curtains, but fine anyhow. I was just picky. But apart from those I really liked my room! It was a very cold night, so I turned on their radiator heater (the white metal wall below the curtains). To my non-tropical readers, I have to describe the heater because we don’t have it in the Philippines. Haha.

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Cute tiny bathroom

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Morning view from my window

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The lobby is behind this bar

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Waiting area in the lobby

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So much for an introduction to the Netherlands. More shenanigans in the coming posts!

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Europe 2016: From Paris with Love (Part 3)

Oct 3, 2016

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On Eiffel Tower, 2nd level

Going up the Eiffel Tower was not originally planned until it was suggested by my boss while we were having lunch, days prior to my trip (Hi boss! Thanks for the idea! :D) I got back to my seat at the office and booked the Eiffel Tower tickets for Rean and me. Unfortunately, the tickets for the top (Level 3) are sold out for the duration of our Paris trip, leaving us with no choice but to go up on level 2 instead. I decided to schedule it on a Monday at lunchtime, thinking we could avoid the weekend crowds. Come October 3, we checked out from the hotel and carried our bags while walking the cobbled ways toward Eiffel Tower. We were scheduled to go up at 1PM.

There are gates around the perimeter of Eiffel Tower’s base. The security was very strict and it is understandable considering that the tower is a global icon, and that there were attacks in Paris months ago. I showed our printed tickets and the security checked our bags rather meticulously. After security, we found ourselves staring upwards.

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We’re staring directly up at Level 1. It was newly renovated. That glass wall and floors were added. Unfortunately our heavy luggages limited us to go there but I highly suggest you to do so.

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The queue behind is for people who didn’t book entrance tickets. So as a millennial I really suggest to book everything in advance online if possible. Also, some of them will go up the tower using stairs. Say what?!

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Around 5 minutes to 1PM, the guards allowed us to enter. I was bringing my take-out coffee so I assume drinks are fine. There were queue inside, but there was a special lane for us who booked online. Again, there was security (a stricter one). They instructed to take out all electronics and put them in a tray. Pointed/sharp objects were not allowed. Really, you would think you were in an airport. But again, this is Eiffel Tower, and we can’t afford to let a terrorist ruin it.

We finally got in the elevator which moved upwards along one of Eiffel Tower’s slant legs. Hence the movement was upward diagonal. The elevator was transparent, and you can see the surroundings as well as the people who took brave decisions to take the stairs.

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Seine River. I imagined poor Eponine walking along its banks while singing “On My Own”.

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I seldomly saw high-rise buildings in Paris. Personally I think they ruin the view.

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Can you see Les Invalides from afar?

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The other half of Champ de Mars was bald but full of tourists anyway. It is where most of our shots were taken.

 

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Can you see the bridge of Pont Alexandre III from afar? Those four pillars with the gilded statues on top..

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Palais de Chaillot as seen from the other side of the tower. At its center is a small plaza known as Trocadero, another popular place where you can take your profile pic-worthy Eiffel Tower photos.

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I remember the recent news about Paris making all its public transportation free for days to discourage the use of cars and therefore to lessen the pollution.

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Pretty Parisian buildings.. It does look neat from the plane.

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And then we went down after an hour. Bought some crepes and ice cream on the sidewalk.

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Forgive my poor photography skills

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And then we waited for our tour bus to take us to Printemps. I bought a two-day bus tour and this was the second day. We only rode it once that day. Bye Eiffel Tower! Til next time!

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Just Parisians doing their thing… Reading books while sunbathing.

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Mmm.. I smell Longchamp bags.

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My officemates and friends requested me to buy their bags.. I liked the feeling of shopping even though they are not for me. LOL. The price difference is astounding when compared to their price in Manila. Le Pliage Neo (medium) here costs 140 Euros (around PHP 7300) plus tourists can get a 10-12% tax refund upon exiting Europe. A friend told me it costs PHP 13500 in Greenbelt. Say what?! Almost twice the price in Paris?! That makes for a good business huh. I’m looking at you all Instagram sellers with “luxe” in their usernames 😀 I also confidently walked inside stores in the likes of Louis Vuitton and Hermes. No one would judge you in Europe, anyway. Everyone I met was nice, even the salesmen/ladies who patiently answered all our questions and rechecked their stocks.  I checked on the prices and found out LV handbags as low as 745 Euros (around PHP 40k) which I’m pretty sure sells at PHP80k++ in Manila.

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I didn’t buy any bags for myself but Rean went to the rescue. He bought me a pretty gray Le Pliage Neo (small). Yay! ❤ He also bought some for her mom and sisters.

After shopping, we processed our tax refund. A friendly Korean girl assisted us. I told her our situation that the bags were sold separately to me and Rean, but my friends’ bags were bought using his credit card. And that I would be leaving Europe alone. I would need to take all the bags with me at once when I exit Europe through Sweden, in order to declare them and properly process the refund. She gave me an envelope with all our forms and receipts, ready to be handed out to Swedish customs when I leave. Efficient!!!

We left Printemps and, even though we pretty much looked like typical Pinoy tourists with all the bags, I requested one last favor from my already annoyed Rean to walk towards Galeries Lafayette, which is a few blocks away.

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I had no plans of shopping. I just want to see…

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…this beauty ❤

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On Level 7 rooftop

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Oh, one last view of the Eiffel Tower (for now)

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How come even their department stores are pretty?

And then at around 5pm we headed for the taxi to take us to Paris Orly Airport for our 930pm flight back straight to Stockholm.

Merci beaucoup, Paris! Jusqu’à la prochaine fois!

Europe 2016: From Paris with Love (Part 2)

Oct 2, 2016

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Prior to the whole trip, I booked a 2-day bus tour and a 1.5-hour night tour from a bus company called L’Open Tour. I know I’m a very touristy tourist – as much as I want to be a legit Parisian by taking the public transpo such as their trains and buses, it was not the better option when we only had 2 days left to tour around – we didn’t have the luxury of time to get lost!

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The tour bus in all its green glory

I recommend it for people who have very limited time but want to visit as much tourist spots as possible. There are many tour bus companies to choose from – I just chose L’Open Tour because of the price and reviews. The arrangement is pretty simple. You buy tickets online, print the confirmation page, and present it to the bus driver himself, and he will give you your actual passes with maps and earphones. Anywhere you sit, there would be an audio system in place where you can plug-in your earphones and listen to a recorded tour guide, which is available in several languages. Obviously, all tour buses should stop at major tourist spots and in our case, the nearest bus stop was the Eiffel Tower. Buses arrive every 15 minutes or so.

At around 10am that Sunday, we boarded the upper deck of the tour bus.

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Kilay on fleek

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Les Invalides – I only know it as the final resting place of Napoleon Bonaparte. We didn’t get off here, and up to now I still wonder why. Probably on next visit – fingers crossed! 😀

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The other side of Les Invalides. You can see some construction going on at the front.

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This is on Pont Alexandre III bridge a.k.a. where Louisa Clark walked in the ending of Me Before You movie (lol typical millennial references)

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The Grand Palais a.k.a. where Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show 2016 was held (again the references)

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If there’s Grand Palais, then there’s this Le Petit Palais just across it.

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Fontaine des Mers in Place de la Concorde. There’s also the Luxor Obelisk behind. I’m pretty sure I remembered the audio tour guide telling that some famous people were beheaded in this plaza (I don’t remember the names). Sorry I had sh*tty photos, there were just too many views I was so confused where to point my camera. I just gave up and inhaled the views.

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I love Parisian buildings. Or probably all European buildings. Look at how uniform they are.

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Academie Nationale de Musique and our bus mates

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Seine River

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Now we decided to get off here, because just across this…

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…is the Notre Dame Cathedral! Remember Quasimodo?

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It was a sunny Sunday but friggin’ cold. Just played it cool with my outfit. I have this habit of underestimating the weather.

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All of a sudden people formed a line so we followed since it looked like they’re gonna go inside.

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Oh my God. This is the first time I saw such an old and enormous church. Because it was Sunday, there was a mass inside and of course visitors are not allowed to take photos during the mass. There are designated areas for that. We attended the mass first (though it was in French). After that, we toured around.

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A scale model of the Notre Dame Cathedral. This is the side view of the church.

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A diorama showing how the church was built.

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My lucky scarf did little to save me from the coldddd. It bothered me in all ways. I can’t Queen Elsa  the heck of the day.

We bought souvenirs outside the cathedral. There were plenty of stores around selling souvenirs such as t-shirts, bags, ref magnets and keychains. There were also restaurants and small stores in front of them selling baguette sandwiches and crepes. Since it was around 2pm and we haven’t had lunch yet, we bought baguette sandwiches and ate them while waiting for our tour bus.

We decided to go back to the hotel so that I can change to a more thought-of cold weather-friendly outfit, and also to drop off the things we bought.

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Hello again, dearie

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One does not simply pass Eiffel Tower without taking a photo of it. Even if you already have hundreds of photos of it.

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Inside the tour bus

 

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Printemps, because even department stores look fancy in Paris.

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The Louvre Museum houses the most famous painting of all time – Leonardo da Vinci’s Monalisa. We didn’t go inside the museum because Rean and I share this passion of not understanding art.

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Les Invalides during sunset. This was about 7pm.

With more than 2 hours to kill before our night tour which was scheduled at 945pm, we decided to have dinner at a restaurant near L’Open Tour Information Office, which was the starting point of the tour.

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Inside Non Coupable restaurant and cafe. Here we see my enormous thin crust margherita pizza (but where’s the basil) and my cute espresso.

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Meanwhile Rean enjoys his steak.

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Just before boarding our night tour bus. We were among the first in line because we learned the hard way that in order to take good photos, you have to be seated at the very front of the bus.

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Notre Dame Cathedral and Seine River at night

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Paris, the City of Lights.

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Arc de Triomphe at night. What a lovely sight.

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Eiffel Tower view at night, from Trocadero side

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“Unbelievable sight, indescribable feeling…”

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Was able to catch Eiffel Tower sparkle a couple of times while we walked towards it.

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Stay tuned for Part 3!

Read Part 1 here.

You can also read my posts about Europe so far:

How I Got My Schengen Visa:

https://virtuallytalkative.wordpress.com/2016/10/17/how-i-got-my-schengen-visa/

Stockholm, Sweden:

https://virtuallytalkative.wordpress.com/2016/10/21/europe-2016-stockholm-syndrome/

Bergen, Norway:

https://virtuallytalkative.wordpress.com/2016/10/26/europe-2016-i-did-it-norway-part-1/

https://virtuallytalkative.wordpress.com/2016/10/26/europe-2016-i-did-it-norway-part-2/

Europe 2016: From Paris with Love (Part 1)

Or baguette, which is like the same thing.

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How to pack light for a Euro-trip. Keep on repeating clothes. (Of course wash them.)

Oct 1, 2016

We left early to catch our flight to Copenhagen, Denmark. Upon arriving there at 11am, we killed some time by lounging at (where else) Starbucks while munching on croissants. Rean also bought himself a polarized Rayban, which is quite cheaper there compared to its price in Manila. At around 2pm we were seated inside the packed (and noisy) plane bound for Paris.

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In Copenhagen Airport

After about 2 hours, our plane mates were still rattling on and noisy as ever. Luckily we have arrived at Paris Orly Airport. I stupidly looked for the Eiffel Tower while the plane descended, to no avail. We looked for a taxi to take us to our hotel. This was planned – taxi from Orly Airport to anywhere in central Paris costs a fixed 30 EUR, and I think the price is just fair since there were two of us. The driver was very kind and helpful and not chatty and spoke a little English which probably explains it.

We were met with a taste of Parisian traffic around 15 minutes into the route. After about less than an hour we finally arrived in Hotel de l’Alma in Rue de Exposition. This would be our home for the next 2 days.

Hotel de l’Alma

First impression: tiny. But I’ve read enough reviews so I knew what to expect. For the price of 98 EUR per night (around PHP 5300 ++) for me it’s also a steal since its location is a good walking distance from Eiffel Tower. We found the tiny elevator and looked for our room in 4th floor. The hallway was 100% dark we initially thought it was brown out or something. Rean even thought we were scammed lol. (We were paranoid about the tips we got from our friends who have been there.) Eventually we found out that the rooms were concealed behind a door that looks like it says “Staff Only” but we just assumed so. Light switches are actually in place and lights automatically turn off when no one’s around.

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Upon entering our room, first impression was OLD. Older than your grandma. It’s not as fancy and shiny and bright as what you would expect a hotel room to be. To be honest, the actual place looked different from the photos. Nonetheless, it was clean and it had a TV and working heater. Everything’s functional; it just had an old feeling in it.

 

Eiffel Tower – The First Glance

After a little rest we decided to go to – where else, Eiffel Tower. I Google Street View-ed enough prior to the trip to know which way to walk. Upon seeing “her”, damn. Butterflies in  my stomach. Kilig to the bones. The feeling was so surreal – it was quite an emotion. I was standing right in front of *probably* the most famous tourist spot in the world. Call me foolish or corny or whatever, but you know, Eiffel Tower is pretty in pictures, nothing fancy. However, seeing it in person is a whole new level of awesome. We literally took hundreds of pictures as we walk closer to it.

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I sometimes wonder how I ended up with a good looking boyfriend. I can’t help it, he’s too clingy. LOL

Even though half of Champ de Mars was not green at that time because of some on-going maintenance, and the sky was gray, the moment wasn’t spoiled at all. I was still giggling at the sight of it, smiling from ear to ear as we walk nearer.

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The dry and dusty grounds of Champ de Mars

It was quite a rainy Saturday afternoon but minutes later the weather gave way for a beautiful sunset. We were lucky since it started getting dark at around 730pm, giving us more day time. We walked some more and took photos and ate crepes from a nearby vendor. Understandably, there were many people – tourists and vendors alike.

We were even scammed for a stem of rose while taking selfies lol. I didn’t know why I took the rose from the vendor despite knowing we would pay for it. All I knew, I was holding my camera, the next moment I was holding the rose lol. He was so persistent that Rean just gave up and gave the man a 2 EUR coin. The man was protesting for 3 EUR but he eventually left when we totally ignored him. Sorry but Paris is full of them – street vendors selling stuff, especially around Eiffel Tower. Just ignore them and buy souvenirs from proper stores.

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I became clingy to Eiffel Tower that I got sad when Rean suggested to go back to the hotel. Honestly the day was full of commutes (what with the connecting flight and traffic) it was really kind of tiring. We walked back and bought water, coffee and snacks from a grocery store along the way.

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Just a beautiful Parisian building that turned golden at sunset

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The hotel’s vicinity is comprised of quaint little corner restaurants, bakeries and stores selling fruits and other goods. We found ourselves looking at the menu outside one of the corner restaurants by the name of Le Petit Caillou. I confidently asked the attendant at the bar whether they have burger lol. Sometimes I tend to be unnecessarily awkward and stupid. Anyway, we were seated and being handed the menu. I had mussels in white wine sauce with a side of ratatouille; Rean had burger with mashed potato (weird) and Orangina soda (like our Royal Tru Orange). They gave us free house fries! Yay.

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After our scrumptious and legit French AF dinner in a legit French AF restaurant, we headed back to our hotel, quite early as one wouldn’t expect tourists to be. But the thing millennials like us often forget is that sometimes, when you’re on a vacation you need to rest. LOL. That’s so ironic. We gave a different meaning to travel. Nowadays it means exhausting our bodies by going to as many places as possible in a short period of time. Oh well.

Stay tuned for Part 2!

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

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!