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!

 

Owl Hotel

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/

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 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!