Japan 2016: Kaway-kaway from KANSAI (Part 4)

Nov 16, 2017

Day 4/8

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

We saved the best for last – our fourth and last day to explore Osaka (before heading to Tokyo) was spent in Universal Studios Japan (USJ). For some, USJ is just another theme park. For me, it was the realization of a childhood dream, or at least a part of it. In July of 2014, USJ opened “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter”, which houses the majestic Hogwarts castle fronting the Black Lake, and the snow-covered little town of Hogsmeade. Since then, it has been a subconscious goal to get there – by Firebolt or Floo Powder or a Portkey or Apparition or what-have-yous, I had to get there.

But it appears I had to take a plane and train to get to Hogwarts. Heading to JR Universal City station!

Come 16th of November year 2016, I knew I was about to have one of the best days of my life. Aged 26 and not a successful Auror, I still looked forward to that day. I didn’t come unprepared – I have been waiting for my Hogwarts acceptance letter since age 11, so it deemed appropriate to dress accordingly. I donned my Hogwarts uniform, red-and-gold neck tie and a matching scarf, worthy of a true Gryffindor, and headed our way.

I almost forgot I had a mom and a sister with me, by the way, who are Muggles.

Welcome to USJ! I was so keen on getting inside WWOHP itself, I wasn’t able to take photos while walking.

USJ Studio Pass/ Express Pass

Prior to the trip, I did lots of reading and I found out that USJ is ALWAYS packed with visitors – tourists and citizens alike, regardless of the day. Sometimes when the crowd is overwhelming, they close the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and only allow those with timed entry tickets. During these unfortunate days, you can get timed entry tickets to WWOHP at no extra costs once you get inside the park, but you have to be really early and the issuance is not guaranteed.

We passed through the “Forbidden Forest”. So nice of them to literally pave the way 😛 So beside me is the flying Ford Anglia that came to the rescue when Ron and Harry were escaping spiders from the forest. You can hear the Hogwarts Hymn while walking. Oh, my Potterhead heart.

Nonetheless, there is another way to guarantee your entrance to WWOHP even on peak days, and that is to get an Express Pass. This is something you purchase on top of the Studio Pass, so obviously this option is more expensive. I figured I cannot risk NOT getting inside WWOHP, so I opted for this. There are many types of Express Passes, but the minimum I should get to ensure our entrance to WWOHP is the Express Pass 4. It is a skip-the-longer-queue-but-you-still-have-to-queue VIP pass for 4 rides, and the HP ride is one of them.

Last year (because a year has passed already at the time of writing this LOL), the Studio Pass + Express Pass 4 combo from Klook costs around Php 7k++/pax, but thanks to Google I managed to find a cheaper option: buying from the Japanese USJ website, which costed me Php5700/pax. Also thanks to a number of blogs that helped me get through the Japanese transaction successfully! The express pass is not available in the English website.

We were greeted by a busy Hogsmeade

Still expensive for Php5700, you’d say? Well I’d say, what a bargain – because of the Express Pass we spent like only 15 minutes in queue to get to the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride (which we rode twice), without the pass the queue normally takes 2 hours. We spent around 20 minutes to get to the Spiderman ride (normally 2 hours) and in the Space Fantasy ride, we literally just walked our way directly to the ride itself, which normally takes an hour in queue. We didn’t mind paying a few extra pesos to spare us the time and effort of falling in line, which we could have spent elsewhere while enjoying the park.

Hello Captain! Welcome to Hogsmeade Station!

Honeydukes, home of the finest sweets including Chocolate Frogs

In front of the Three Broomsticks (our go-to pub) is where we can buy Butterbeer!

 The experience was overwhelming and it felt like Christmas had arrived on that very day – what with the cheerful crowds, festive atmosphere combined with the chilly weather and my excitement. We quickly made our way through Hogsmeade only to find what we were looking for:

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!

Mama easily recognized the castle from “Harry Pattern”. True fan fo’ sure – my mom, who just looks like a brunette Mrs. Weasley 😀 And on my right is Dobby.

Shout out to my sister who watched HP movies 1-8 prior to our Japan trip! Although she calls the Hogwarts Express train operator Hagrid..

Straight outta JK Rowling’s head. What started out as some scribbles on a tissue paper… has become THIS. Oh the grandeur of what have materialized.

Channeling my inner Hermione

So we spent like 32 years in front of the castle just adoring it and taking loads of pictures. We decided to use our Express Pass for the first time to experience Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey 4D ride. And so we went inside the castle!

The House Points! With Gryffindor in the lead (red), Slytherin (green), Hufflepuff (brown) and Ravenclaw (blue).

As expected, the paintings are moving and talking to each other.

The Pensieve inside the Headmaster’s (Dumbledore’s) office!

Do you see Ron, Hermione and Harry? I didn’t know they can talk in Japanese! And oops sorry for the flash photography, although it’s not really prohibited. This, by the way, is the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. We also passed by the Gryffindor Common Room – although we didn’t have a picture of it because we had to drop all our belongings inside a locker prior to the ride.

The hype is real! The ride was amazeballs! We played Quidditch and obviously we were on our broomsticks! Woohoo!! It lasted for a good 5 minutes.. that is so worth the queue!

After the ride, this was the way exit, at the back of Hogwarts.

A truly magical Christmas time

After the ride, we skimmed the Hogsmeade shops:

Everyone’s favorite Honeydukes

Chocolate Frogs with collectible cards of the great wizards and witches inside! What card did you get? I got Rowena Ravenclaw!

Bertie Bott’s Every Flavored Beans

Fudge Flies

Exploding Bonbons

The restrooms are called Public Inconveniences LOL

You probably guessed that you can hear Moaning Myrtle here. You are right! I solemnly swear that I’m NOT up to no good (for instance, making Polyjuice Potion) 😀

The Three Broomsticks Pub, home of the Butterbeer

Zonko’s Joke Shop is Fred and George’s inspiration for their Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. Here you can spend your galleons for stuff like Extendable Ears, which you can use for more effective eavesdropping (only present in the book – not physically available for Muggles, if ever you’re interested :P)

Here you can get a copy of Gilderoy Lockhart’s narcissistic books, if you care about him, ‘coz I don’t

Them woodworks. Can you see the owls? This was in the Owl Post – a.k.a. magical world’s courier/messenger service. They like it better than, you know, FedEx or emails or text messages. Don’t ask me why.

The Owl Post

We went inside Ollivander’s and witnessed a show, recreating the scene where the wand chooses Harry. Here, the wand chose that lucky boy so he gets to take home a free wand.

I love Harry Potter but I’m not gonna spend 4900 yen for a pretty stick

Dervish and Banges, where we can buy an assortment of magical instruments and Quidditch supplies

Like Omnioculars

Broomsticks

Bludgers and Snitches

Sneakoscopes

Robes for all Houses

Even the Monster Book of Monsters!

When in a theme park it’s easy to forget that you’re hungry, except my mom. So we had  lunch in Three Broomsticks – Fish n’ Chips, and Pork Ribs Platter.

This is just a dummy of their Christmas Feast which looks really inviting.

Finally I got to taste Butterbeer..

This is cold Butterbeer with a souvenir mug. As expected it was sweet and buttery

A magic show. Look at how everyone sat down so everyone can see. I love this country.

I just regret the fact that we didn’t bother queuing for The Flight of the Hippogriff ride so we didn’t see Hagrid’s hut at the back.

When in Japan – wearing a costume is perfectly normal especially inside a theme park! Just look at that Spiderman behind me

No filter!

It’s easy to forget that there are other areas in USJ that need exploring. As a Harry Potter fan, my USJ area logic would be: Harry Potter, and others. 😀 Darn, the place is HUGE. Since we paid a hefty sum to get inside this theme park, we left WWoHP and quickly explored around and watched the Christmas show. Then, we returned here at night.

I’m never gonna leave Hogsmeade without my stash of Honeydukes goodies

Another round of Butterbeer, this time hot – to battle the 7deg C evening.

The Hogwarts castle looks even more astonishing at night

I left WWoHP with a heavy heart. And a heavy bag of Honeydukes goodies.

I also bought a Time Turner from Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods

I will write another blog post for the other things we did inside USJ outside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! 🙂

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Japan 2016: Kaway-kaway from KANSAI (Part 3)

Some 7-11 purchases

Nov 15, 2016

Day 3/8

Nara

I never thought deers would make me literally laugh out loud.

It was a cold Tuesday autumn morning and we were already tired even though that was only our 3rd day in the Land of the Rising Sun. We had no other spare time so we went ahead with the original plan – firstly, go to Nara and spend time with the famous deers.

On the way to Nara, pretending we were not tired. But hey! Gotta be thankful for being able to travel 😉

We totally don’t know the lady at the back but she seemed to be very happy so let her be.

Looking at this, I realized we walked almost 1.6 km from JR Nara station to Nara Deer Park, and another 1.6 km going back, not even including the walk around the park itself. No wonder we emptied 2 teishoku sets during lunch!

Nara is a city about 1 hour by train from Osaka. We went here just for the deers, but I’m pretty sure there’s more to this city, if only we had more spare time!

Autumn in full bloom! In the left side of this photo, there are stairs leading to Kofuku-ji, the 5-storey pagoda, which also leads to one of the many entrances of Nara Deer Park.

The stairs leading to some temples and Kofuku-ji, the 5-storey pagoda

Kofuku-ji, the 5-storey pagoda

Our first sighting of a deer!

The sister trying to befriend a deer. Deer was not amused.

Deers can be really aggressive if they saw you holding any food! They might bite, kick, headbutt – and WTF, knock you down!

But we didn’t see this sign prior, so here’s my mama just chilling under the maple tree

while we take selfies because duh tourists

While we were busy taking photos, a wild deer appeared in front of my poor mother who basically screamed.

Not gonna lie, their mouths are big and we didn’t know that they can bite! Nonetheless we found this really funny LOL. Bakit ka kasi may Gardenia sa bag, Mama.

We recovered from the shenanigan so we walked some more. The gloomy weather did little to obscure the beauty around.

Honestly we could be taking photos under a post that says some profanity and we’ll never know

The National Museum of Nara. We never got inside due to time constraints. This is where we witnessed “Kamote Vigil”, a group of ahjummas holding hot sweet potato high above their head while walking, because the ever-aggressive deers are freaking trying to get them. I never got the chance to take a photo because I was busy dying of laughter.

You can buy deer cookies around the park. Nagastusan ka na, na-kuyog ka pa (ng deers).

He seems to be older than the other deers. Yes, I just assumed his gender and relative age.

Make yo Mama happy! Hey traveling millennials – travel with yo Mama!

I kind of wish PH moved up a little bit farther from the equator to have this season! Autumn is just so so pretty!

While walking back to JR Nara Station, we passed by this quaint unassuming little teishoku house. Prices are reasonable, food was scrumptious, and the ahjummas serving and cooking for us were really nice!

Yummmmmmmers

And so we left Nara at around 2pm. We took the train going to our next destination – Arashiyama Bamboo Grove in Kyoto.

 

Kyoto

We missed Arashiyama Bamboo Grove while in Kyoto on our 2nd day, because apparently it was hard to compress destinations when you get out of the hotel at noon-ish and it gets dark at 4pm.

JR Saga-Arashiyama Station (this was taken on our way back to Osaka so it was already dark)

I forgot what this place is, we passed by a couple of other tourist spots on the way to the Bamboo Grove. I’m not even sure if this is a tourist spot or a cemetery?!

But the trees are pretty so we took a brief look inside.

Finally! We were lucky we arrived here while it was still daytime. It might be hard to take proper photos when it gets dark, and I’m not even sure if the place is open at nighttime.

These are tombstones that can be seen at some point while walking inside the bamboo grove, but I didn’t take this photo for the tombstones – rather because of its colorful backdrop.

It was pretty crowded.

Outside Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, we took a rest while eating some snacks.

Iced coffee and street xiao long baos.

And then we went back to Kyoto Station, then Osaka Station.

 

Osaka

Boy was it crowded. This was around 5pm. We reached Osaka at past 6pm and met with my sisters’ college friend.

Genesis is my sisters’ (plural!) generous college friend who is based in Osaka! She treated us to a delightful dinner! Yay!

An assortment of all things good – okonomiyaki, okosoba and tamago, with Calpis and Melon Soda to wash ’em all down our stomachs.

Cheery noises of locals after work, the sound of sizzling food on the tables and great ambiance. Eat where the locals eat! Thanks Genesis for the dinner! The leftovers even reached breakfast! LOL

Osaka Station

The faces we make after having free dinner

This caps off Day 3! We basically went to 3 cities in a day! Whew!

Stay tuned for Day 4 as I take you to Hogwarts! B-)

oOo

You can read previous Japan 2016 posts here:

First day in Osaka and Dotonbori foodtrip:

https://virtuallytalkative.wordpress.com/2017/06/08/japan-2016-kaway-kaway-from-kansai-part-1/

Japan Rail Pass and Kyoto Temple Hopping:

https://virtuallytalkative.wordpress.com/2017/09/29/japan-2016-kaway-kaway-from-kansai-part-2/

 

 

Japan 2016: Kaway-kaway from KANSAI (Part 1)

 

Dotonbori in Osaka

Japan Quick Facts:

Timezone: UTC +9 (1 hour ahead of PH time)

Currency: JPY or Japanese Yen

Denominations: Smallest bill is 1000 JPY = around 450 PHP; 10000 JPY = around 4500 PHP; for coins, there are 50, 100, 500 JPY coins. Typical meal costs 700 JPY. Typical vendo drinks cost 100 JPY. I didn’t see anything you can buy with a 50 JPY coin.

Power outlet: Same with PH, 2 flat parallel prongs BUT voltage is 110V. It will work fine with most chargers for mobile phone and camera but double check the specs. Might have problem with hair curlers/straighteners/dryers, make sure they’re compatible with 110V. Really guys, we girls often bring them with us during travel, don’t fret. 😀

Geography: Kansai region is located at the southern part of Japan and is comprised of many cities including Osaka, Kyoto and Nara.  Osaka is 1 hour away from Tokyo by plane, 2.5 hours away by shinkansen (bullet train) and 8 hours by bus.

Visa Required? Yes, for Philippine passport holders. Around 1 week processing time. Always through accredited agencies, direct application to Japanese Embassy not possible.

 

Nov 13, 2016

Day 1/8 – Osaka

Still basking in the afterglow of my short twoweek European affair, a month later – I found myself packing my overused/over-Instagrammed leather jacket and tossing rolled winter jackets for Mama and Ate in the luggage. This was the “planned” Japan trip, booked immediately after my Korea trip with Mama last March. Having spotted a good deal from Jetstar, I booked roundtrip flights to Osaka without much thinking (calculated risk, of course).

At around 3am we left Migi (Ate’s car) in Park n’ Fly, and then boarded their shuttle to NAIA Terminal 1. I remember being stressed out the day before due to some imaginary problem I was having related to the credit card I used to book. I read somewhere that Jetstar requires physical presence of the card and its owner before checking in, otherwise you will be denied to check-in. Because I don’t have my own and I borrowed Rean’s card and he’s not joining us in the trip, and because I can’t find any working contact number for Jetstar to validate this, I requested him to come over at 4am in the airport. That was a Sunday. By the time we reached the check-in counter I asked the lady about it, and she casually answered “That’s not necessary, at least for Osaka-bound flights from Manila.” If you read this, sorry for wasting your time and effort, Be. At least you got to see me before we left, that’s more important. Hart hart.

This is how crowded Metro Manila is.

Sea of clouds.

So, at 7am we flew to Osaka. That was our first time to ride Jetstar, and it’s not far off from other budget airlines. After almost 4 hours, we landed safely in Kansai International Airport. Welcome to Japan!

Mama’s smile was worth the gastos. LOL.

I booked a ride to our AirBNB place via KLOOK. What a very millennial sentence that is, using apps to get things done. Anyway, our driver was very kind because he waited for us for more than an hour. The delay was caused by us getting our JR Passes, and getting lost finding where to.

It was around an hour drive from the airport to our place near JR Namba Station. I recommend our driver, whose name I forgot, because he was patient while trying to locate Ellie’s Apartment (Consolare Namba Building). He assisted us with our luggage, and didn’t leave until we figured out how to enter the secured building. To be fair, for first-timers in Japan, self-check in is quite complicated – that’s why, my friend, read the instructions your AirBNB host sent you.

I was quite amazed with myself having booked a totally fab accommodation near a JR train station. Ellie’s Apartment is centrally located, spacious, modern, and let us have our first experience of the famous Japanese toilet seat.

Really. First time in Japan and the first thing you look for is the high-tech toilet seat.

You’re lucky if you find something like this in Tokyo. And not to mention the price! This place was PHP 3100/night only.

Most AirBnBs in Japan offer free pocket wifi you can take outside! It’s hard to get around a foreign country without Internet, even with proper planning.

The bathroom is separated from the toilet. Shampoo, conditioner, body wash and hand soap are provided, even laundry detergent! This place has washing machine and flat iron. How handy.

Mama is sitting on a sofa bed. There’s enough space for 3, I was supposed to sleep in the upper deck but the bed was wiggly, so I slept beside Mama. There’s an extra futon bed, pillows and blanket in the cabinet and Ate slept on it on the floor. Also, that split-type aircon double-functions as a heater, as it was normally 15 degrees outside when we were there.

After some rest, Ate and I went to a nearby 7-11 for grocery shopping. And guess what we bought? Freaking noodles, and bento meals! I love the bento meals there!

Meanwhile, here’s a Soju that looks casually like a mineral water. We almost got it until we looked at the price.

There goes this tourist posing beside a bike, because Japan. You can also see some autumn foliage in the background.

At around 7PM we walked from our place to Dotonbori, a place very much like Seoul’s Myeongdong and Taipei’s Ximending, where there are endless shops, cafes, night lights and the most important thing – street food.

The famous Glico sign!

Very long queue outside Pablo, home of the famous cheese tart, which already has a branch in Manila

Shinsaibashi roofed shopping arcade

Japanese restos can’t tell you enough what they’re serving

Huwaw pare laki ng G-Y-O-S-A

I don’t know what the heck this is but probably a really fat fish

Uhmm I wonder what’s the specialty of this place. Grilled dragons?

Ang okonomiyaki at ang Waray. Dito po tayo – sa Warai Okonomiyaki. Waley

They say Ichiran is home to the “best tasting ramen in the world”. They have many branches around Japan. There was a very long queue here, so we had it in Tokyo.

Don Quixote is one of the famous discount stores in Japan.

A quaint resto that’s not as bold as its neighbors

There’s this little place with tables so we ordered some food to eat here for convenience.

Melonpan!!!

Yakisoba

Takoyaki!!

 

“The second most delicious melonpan ice cream in the world” LOL. How honest and specific 😀 I wonder what’s the first?!

It was a very cold mid-November autumn night

We passed by this interesting building while walking back to our place.

Stay tuned for more Japan posts!

Europe 2016: Finding Netherlands (Part 3)

Oct 6, 2016

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That day I planned to experience everything Old Holland – Dutch windmills, tulips, wooden shoes, cheese. When planning this trip, I initially aimed going to that place I always see as background video in videoke (I know, weird) where there was some sort of cheese exhibition, many people dressed in what looks like their traditional costumes and carrying loads of round cheeses. I learned that it takes place in Edam, another city in Netherlands where the name of the cheese (edam, or quezo de bola in the Philippines) originated. The “cheese demonstration” is held every Wednesday at 10am but unfortunately there was no schedule of it on my trip and that they will resume on March 2017 (as per their website).

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[Image not mine! Source here] Edam Cheese Demonstration

Of course, I’d also like to see the “Holland Tulips” in the flesh, so I googled whether early October is a good time to visit Keukenhof, probably the best place where you can see those world-famous rows and rows of colorful beauty. Unfortunately again, I found out that I won’t see any flowers when I go there, and that the best time to go is around April to May. Gives us a lot of reasons to visit Europe during spring/summer – this and the fact that the weather is more tolerable for tropical people like me, and eliminates the bulk of winter jackets in our luggage, making room for more shopping because priorities.

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[Image not mine! Source here] Keukenhof and the Holland tulips

Crossing out these places, I decided to go in Zaanse Schans in Zaandam, a city about 40 minutes away by bus from Amsterdam. I prepped up to check out from Owl Hotel at around 11am. After bidding goodbye to my room and leaving my luggage in the lobby for safekeeping while I’m away, I walked to Leidseplein and took the tram going to Centraal Station. I bought a burger from a fast food store in the station and looked for the bus going to Zaanse Schans. There was free wifi onboard, and I think that applies to most of public transportation in Europe. How good it would be living in countries like this?

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There is no entrance fee to see the farm and the windmills and houses.

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Also from Wikipedia: “Zaanse Schans has a collection of well-preserved historic windmills and houses.”

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90s Pinoy kids will remember Nelo and Patrasche (Dog of Flanders) with this carriage full of traditional milk cans

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A lot of product demonstrations take place in each of the houses inside Zaanse Schans. Here, they showed how Gouda cheese is made. Like Edam, Gouda is a name of a city in Netherlands.

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The same house, aside from offering an assortment of cheeses, also offers syrup and honey waffles, which are called “stroopwafels” in Dutch. Stroopwafels are the greatest invention on earth, according to me.

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Animals roam freely around here. In fact they are probably so used to people that they are the ones who approach you. A chicken approached me as if it wanted to start a conversation, and so I did.

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What a beautiful day!

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My dream house would have one of these cute little bridges over a little stream.

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This house showcases the making of wooden shoes.

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These are not real tulips. They’re, well, wooden.

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Inside the wooden shoe-house img_3159

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A demo of making wooden shoes was taking place when I entered.

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I wonder how much that costs.

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They actually have sizes, you know! Pretty and colorful souvenirs! I didn’t buy though, mainly because of the price and baggage issues.

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After 2 hours and a bag of stroopwafels and cheese, I left Zaanse Schans and headed back to Amsterdam. I roamed around Centraal for a bit then boarded the tram, got off at Koningsplein for the flower market in Singel.

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Stalls after stalls of ready-to-plant tulip bulbs (which I didn’t buy because it’s impossible for them to grow in tropical countries), typical souvenirs like keychains and ref magnets, and.. did you see that?

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This is where we should be extra careful 😀 Examine carefully the things you buy in any place where cannabis – or marijuana, is legal. It could cause you some serious trouble in your home country’s airport.

And then I got settled inside Amarylles, a quaint little resto I saw while walking. It was around 4pm and the last thing I ate was the free taste of stroopwafels lol.

And then I got settled inside Amarylles, a quaint little resto I saw while walking. It was around 4pm and the last thing I ate was the free taste bits of stroopwafels lol.

Full english for very late brunch!

Full english for a very late brunch! Did you see that speculoos? The Netherlands is also home to that popular biscuit.

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Different types of cheese

I learned that there are plenty of Henry Willig stores in Amsterdam. I decided to buy more stroopwafels because basic necessities.

I learned that there are plenty of Henry Willig stores in Amsterdam. I decided to buy more stroopwafels because basic necessities.

I went back to Owl Hotel to get and arrange my things. I was having a little sepanx before going, it was just a short two-day trip and I hoped to stay longer. It was only on my last day when I finally figured out the shortest way to go back to the hotel, oh well. My flight was scheduled for 930pm. I headed for the airport at 5pm.

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Because I was too early in the airport, I roamed around and found this display at the roof deck.

Duty free shop selling 2 for 49EUR perfumes

Duty free shop selling 1 for 29 EUR, 2 for 49 EUR perfumes

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I wish I learned earlier that security in Schiphol Airport would take this long. It took me about 40 minutes in queue. I really didn’t see it coming, it was not the case in Bergen and Paris – there was no queue there at all. Amsterdam Schiphol takes its security very seriously, they will tell you to take out all electronics and liquids, they scanned and rescanned my items, they made me take off my shoes, it made me rethink whether I bought that cannabis lollipop (kidding, of course I didn’t). After I was cleared, I ran like a madwoman to my gate. Lesson learned: Upon arriving at any airport, immediately check the queue for security.

This caps off my Europe 2016 series! It has been four months since my trip and I sorely miss it. I will try to make helpful travel guides in the near future 😀 You see, my posts actually serve as my online travel diary, so bear with me for writing even the most nonsense stuff.

Japan series coming up! Stay tuned 😀

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 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/