First Time Baltic

It seems like most of the travel I’ve been doing lately are spur of the moment. I see a cheap fare, I buy it for the cheapest dates, I put it aside until a week before I travel, and then I start going crazy researching for accommodations, important sights to see, and must-try food places.

This month, I’m taking a break from traveling abroad to collect my thoughts and write blogs, to possibly explore my current country of residence more, and because 2 groups of friends are visiting in late March. Just thinking of all the things I need to accomplish in March makes me wish it was April already. Too many extra-curricular activities, and I know I really need to work on getting papers published if I want a shot at keeping this lifestyle I currently have.

Last month though, I had an amazing time in Kaunas, Lithuania. It’s my first Baltic country and I did not really know what to expect. Unlike hyped up western European countries, there was nothing that I knew of Kaunas off the top of my head, except that it was once part of the Soviet Union. So, like the good researcher that I am – a few weeks after buying a spur of the moment ticket for Andrew and I to Kaunas – I went online and googled for places to see and places to eat in Kaunas. I told Andrew it was going to be a relaxing vacation, as opposed to a hectic touristy vacation. And just like the seasoned travelers that we are, we packed our bags, took a train to the Copenhagen airport, and waited for our flight to Kaunas.

The mood was dreary when we first landed. The sky was overcast, there was a slight drizzle, and it was cold. Since it was a RyanAir flight, we had to walk for a few minutes to the main airport building after disembarking from the plane. The Kaunas International Airport (KUN) was small and vaguely reminiscent of the airport I landed at in Bishkek, except I didn’t need to go through immigration.

Since Andrew and I did not have any checked baggage, we headed straight to the bus terminal. Airport buses that take you from the airport to the city center run daily. They have buses for the earliest flight out of Kaunas and for the latest flight into Kaunas. I find it quite amazing that they have this. A single journey bus ride, no matter how long, costs 0.80 EUR. For those who want to travel conveniently (although, I don’t see how traveling by bus in Kaunas is inconvenient!), there are cabs available right outside the arrival exit. Normally, a cab from the airport to the city center costs 15 EUR. Make sure the meter is flagged before the cab goes. Or, if the cab driver refuses to use the meter, make sure you negotiate your fare +/- the average cost to the city center.

We stayed at Hotel Ibis Kaunas. It was less than 50EUR per night with free breakfast for two people, 10 minutes walk from Akropolis (the big shopping center), and 30 minutes walk from the city center. The Kaunas old town is 45 minutes walk from our hotel, but one can easily take a bus for 0.80 EUR. There is a bus stop right beside the hotel that takes you to the city center, the old town or back to the airport.

Since our trip was a relaxing vacation, we decided NOT to leave the city of Kaunas (although we could have very easily taken a train to Vilnius or a bus to either the Hill of Crosses or the Curonian Spit). We stayed in on the day we arrived and on our third day, consuming our free breakfast and either ordering room service or walking to Akropolis and getting take out. We visited the city center and the old town on our second and fourth days. We left very early on the morning (as in, freakin’ 3:45am bus ride to the airport!!!) of our fifth day.

Our second day started off with a lunch at Berneliu Smuklė at the city center. Berneliu Smuklė is a highly-recommended restaurant chain that serves traditional Lithuanian cuisine with servers dressed in traditional Lithuanian dresses (sorry, I don’t remember seeing male servers). I ordered a Kiaulienos Išpjovos Kepsnys Su Traškia Skrudinta Rûkytos Šoninės Plutele (Barbeque Sauce Glazed Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin) for 6.90 EUR while Andrew ordered a rabbit stew (Smetoniškai paruoštas triušienos troškinys). Both were delicious and filled us to the brim. I was so full that I just wanted to go back to the hotel to sleep. I should have recalled this feeling for dinner that day. We had dinner at Medziotojai at the old town. The restaurant was decorated like a hunter’s lodge. Inspired by the decor, Andrew and I ordered a meat cocktail and a beer each and surprisingly, paid less than 20 EUR. At the end of the meal, suffice to say we decided to walk back to our hotel that night, intent on burning all the food we binged on.

We walked most of the day too. After lunch, we walked to the nearby garrison church of Kaunas, St. Michael the Archangel’s. It was fascinating to be in a Roman Byzantine style church built in the 1890’s and used as a Russian Orthodox garrison. The church has also been used as an art gallery and is now used as a Roman Catholic Church. St. Michael the Archangel marks the start (or the end, however you look at it) of the Laisvės alėja, one of the longest pedestrian streets in Eastern Europe. The street is lined with shops on the both sides and trees in the middle. Charming. Picturesque.

So we walked the entire stretch of the street, entering interesting shops every now and then while Andrew repeatedly asked where all the people were. Kaunas, during the time we were there, was a sleepy town. Even though most stores were open, we hardly saw people out and about.

We visited the Devil’s Museum, unique for its collection of art pieces and home furnishings with depictions of the devil. A block away from the museum was the Žaliakalnio funikulierius, an old funicular that takes you up to the Christ’s Resurrection Church where you can pay to go up to the terrace and get a lovely view of Kaunas. All worth it. 0.50 EUR for each funicular ride and 2.50 EUR to go up to the terrace using the elevator (cheaper if you take the stairs :p).

We also walked through old town’s Vilniaus Gatvė, an old medieval road that used to be all wood and later replaced by red bricks. Very charming, with its cobblestones and quaint houses. On the street is the Kaunas Basilica Cathedral built in the 1400s. It’s the largest Gothic structure in Lithuania and the only church built with a basilica floor structure. It’s intricate and amazing; maybe even awe-inspiring.

Our fourth day was spent visiting Kaunas castle and the House of Perkūnas. Both were interesting places. I can imagine how charming Kaunas used to be before all the houses were burned down. Too bad. I wish all of that got preserved. 🙂

On our fourth day, we also unintentionally rode the wrong bus from our hotel and ended up doing a city tour. Tired, after our unplanned escapade, we decided to eat a very late lunch at a Chinese restaurant and dinner take out from Akropolis. Akropolis is an amazing mall. The grocery store is flooded with all sorts of Lithuanian chocolate sold by weight. It also has cooked food and more grocery choices than Denmark will ever have!

Now, back in Copenhagen, this is what I have to say of Kaunas: sleepy, charming, very very cheap, friendly people, good service, great public transportation. I will definitely want to come back again. 🙂

March 05, 2017 | Copenhagen, Denmark

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Morocco on a Shoestring

I’m finally feeling better. At least, better enough to write a blog entry. It’s been a tough 2 months to say the least. It started out with a conference in Norway, followed by a teaching stint in Kyrgyzstan, a 4-city trip in Morocco, and a 3-city trip in Turkey. Before leaving for Morocco, I had guests in Copenhagen that I felt only right to show around. I have not been in the office for a month and a half since the crazy travels started. I miss working.

Three weeks ago, Andrew and I spent 5 full days in Morocco visiting Casablanca, Fes, Chefchaouen, and Marrakech. It was hectic. We spent one full day in each of these cities and almost a day (in sum) of traveling. It might not look like it in the map, but the distance between cities is huge and it takes a least 3-4 hours to get from one city to another.

We were supposed to meet up with two of my college friends and then go to Turkey together, but that did not happen. While they decided to do a 6-day Private Tour via Morocco Sahara Holiday for 549 EUR (582.60 USD) per person (check out their tour here), we decided to keep our budget within 500 USD for two people (250 USD per person). And surprise, surprise (or maybe not :p), it worked +/- a few dollars! We pre-booked our hotels using Expedia, ate local cuisine, and took public transportation. It was an amazing experience that did not leave a gaping hole in our wallets. We got to interact with the locals and saw how Moroccans are in Morocco. Public transportation was quite comfortable. Comfortable enough that if I had an option between sitting in a car or sitting in a train to get from one Moroccan city to the next, I’d sit in a train. Trains allowed me to walk around and stretch my legs. Rest rooms were available, food and drinks were carted off every so often, and seats can be transformed to beds when traveling after rush hour (For more information on traveling in Morocco, check out my blog entry on Moroccan commute).

Our first city for the trip was Fes. It’s the second largest city in Morocco and was the capital city of modern Morocco until 1925. To get there from the Casablanca Mohammed V International Airport (Station: Aeroport Med V), we took a train from the airport to Casablanca (Station: Casa Voyageurs) and from Casa Voyageurs to Fes (Station: Fes). Since the trip from airport to Casablanca only took 30 minutes, we decided to buy second class train tickets. It was not bad. There were no reserved seats and just one big space at one end of the compartment to store bags, but the seats were comfortable and there was enough space for everyone’s bags. The travel from Casablanca to Fes, on the other hand, was a different story. The trip was estimated to take 3-4 hours. So we decided to buy first class train tickets. We were so happy we did since, for reasons we cannot fully understand (because they were in French), the train took 6 hours to get from Casablanca to Fes.

Fes

Upon arriving in Fes, we needed to get to our from the train station to the medina (the old town, city center) and find Dar Al Ouali, our hotel in Fes booked via Expedia. We took a cab, haggled it down to 20 MAD. The cab driver agreed but asked us if he could pick up one other passenger. That did not sound so bad for us, so we agreed. He never found that one  other passenger.

With Google Maps on our smartphones, it was not difficult to find our hotel. It was crazy inside the medina. The streets were narrow, souks lined the streets, and there were people everywhere! My first impression of it was a very colorful, very lively, and slightly more organized version of Divisoria in the Philippines. The Moroccan lamps were eye-catching, the leather jackets hung like they were not genuine leather, and stomach growled to the smell of tangine and couscous.

When we arrived at the hotel, we were met by a receptionist who knew very little English. She called the hotel owner and it was him who checked us in. The hotel is a riad, a traditional Moroccan house with a garden or a courtyard. The courtyard was the size of a normal living room. There were four floors and a rooftop room that guests can use to hangout. Our room was on the second floor (thank goodness for that, because the staircase was pretty narrow). We had a double sized bed, a ensuite shower area with toilet, airconditioning, free towels, and a small TV. Half the room was carpeted, and the carpet looked old. Other than that, and especially for the price that we paid for it, it was not bad. And it came with a traditional Moroccan breakfast, which was one of the things I have learned to look forward to in Morocco. Breakfast was amazing. 🙂

The hotel owner, recommended that we eat at Restaurant Salon de thé Hiba Chez Hakim (or Restaurant Hakim, for short). It is his favorite restaurant in the medina. Since the owner knows him, he asked us to mention his name so that we get treated well. And so, like the obedient tourists that we were, we went there, mentioned his name, and yes, we were treated well. Andrew and I both ordered the tangine set menu with Moroccan mint tea, and we both loved it (enough to return to the restaurant at another day). I should say that one should NEVER leave Fes without having a tangine and a cactus fruit.

The hotel owner also recommended that we rent a tour guide for 3 hours for 200 MAD. The tour guide was local and trained by the state, so he should be knowledgeable. He also should not try to rip us off. What we were NOT told, however, was that the tour guide does not keep time and if we exceed 3 hours of touring, we get charged 500 MAD (for a 5-hour tour). Our tour guide was pretty good. He showed us the architecture in the Fes medina, described the history and what the government is doing to preserve that. He took us to the famous mosques, explained what made them famous and willingly took our photos. We went to the tanneries, the carpet maker, the cactus scarf maker, the carpenter, an embroidery shop, and the argan oil maker. In each of these places, someone would explain how the good was created and then showed us samples of finished products. I especially enjoyed the visit to the carpet maker. The owner was very warm and welcoming. He served us tea, had us sit down and rolled carpets in front of us while explaining the difference between carpets. We then get to decide (by swiping our hands back and forth) whether we want to keep or reject a carpet, just like they do in the movies. After the tour, our guide brought us to an extravagant looking restaurant for lunch. We enjoyed the views but not the prices. After lunch, he picked us up from the restaurant and brought us back to our hotel. It was only when we got to our hotel that he asked for additional money because they tour went beyond 3 hours. Since we were unwilling to give him 500 MAD, we agreed on 250 MAD.

NOTE: We tried buying leather jackets. They’re more expensive near the tanneries. The one from the tannery started at 8000 MAD while the one just beside our hotel started at 800 MAD. The one from the tannery was made of camel skin but the lining was not very well done. The one near our hotel was made of sheep skin but the lining was very good. According to online guides to haggling, you should start at 1/4 of the opening price. So if the opening price is 800 MAD, you should counter with 200 MAD. Very slowly go up (slower than the salesperson). Ideally, you should end up at either 1/3 or 1/2 the opening price.

Chefchaouen

Chefchaouen is my favorite city in Morocco. Since it was at the foot of the Rif mountains, the weather was cool. To get there from Fes, we had to take a cab from the medina to the CTM bus station. The day before we were scheduled to leave for Chefchaouen, we had our hotel owner buy us tickets for CTM, to reserve our seats. At the CTM bus station, we checked in our luggages (I think it was 5 MAD per bag). The bus stopped halfway to Chefchaouen for lunch and a toilet break. The lunch place only accepts cash, which, unfortunately for us, we did not have enough of. Good thing we came prepared with sandwiches of our own and a couple of bread that we packed from last night’s dinner.

We stayed at the extremely charming Casa Annasr, just 5 minutes walk from the CTM bus station. From Casa Annasr, we had to walk uphill for 20-30 minutes to get to the medina. Breakfast was not free and cost 50 MAD per person. Our hotel room was amazing. The bed was comfortable and the ensuite bathroom was squeaky clean. In fact, our rooms look like it was newly renovated. The hotel is owned by a family: 2 brothers (we assume). The older brother is bossy and short tempered, but the younger brother is very friendly and accommodating.

The medina in Chefchaouen was blueeeeeee, and we spent most of our day walking and exploring and looking at what the souks had to offer. It was lovely and relaxing. We had lunch at Sindibad Restaurant (which had pretty good desserts!) and dinner at Aladdin Restaurant. The latter is highly, highly recommended. It’s a bit pricey for a Moroccan meal, but the food is delicious (and servings are huge), the view is amazing, and the ambiance is great. Right before dinner, we went inside the Kasbah Museum which only opened at 3pm (Opening Hours: 9-12, 15-18.30). There’s really nothing much there, except a breathtaking view of the medina from the tower. For that, it is worth the wait. 🙂

Marrakech

From Chefchaouen, we took the Supratours bus to Souk el-Arbaa and then the ONCF train from Souk el-Arbaa to Casablanca and then from Casablanca to Marrakech. It was a long day of mostly traveling. We left Chefchaouen around noon and arrived in Marrakech very late in the evening. Our train to Casablanca was delayed and we thought we would not make it to Marrakech. It turns out the train to Marrakech waited for us.

Upon arriving in Marrakech, we again took a cab to the medina. We were staying at another riad called Hotel Riad Dar Tuscia. The hotel was nice and breakfast was free. This was our most costly hotel, and I could already feel some sort of foreboding for the next day, when we tour the city. Marrakech was a city like many cities. The souks were organized into categories, the items were costlier (compared to Fes), and the salespeople were meaner. We visited a couple places of interest and rode a camel. Lunch was at Jemaa El Fna. Food was not exceptional, and it was expensive. I did enjoy (and highly recommend), drinking a fresh orange juice from one of the fruit stands. It was heaven! Just perfect for the hot summer weather.

Casablanca

Our last stop was Casablanca. By then we were extremely exhausted from all the traveling. It was not fun to travel through desert sands so much. If I were to do this trip again, I’d pick 2-3 cities and stay longer in each city. If I had a longer time in Fes, I would have loved to explore the souks some more (and maybe eat more cactus fruits). If I had a longer time in Chefchaouen, I would have liked to see the waterfalls that everyone is raving about.

We stayed at Manzil Hotel. Also booked using Expedia. In fact, all our hotels and flights were booked via Expedia while all bus and train tickets were bought in Morocco. Manzil Hotel was in an industrial zone. It was near the train station though, so it was easy to find it. Rooms were clean and spacious. Breakfast was not free. We didn’t really get to see much of Casablanca. By this time, we were so exhausted all we wanted to do was go home. I do recommend seeing the largest mosque in Africa, Hassan II Mosque.

This is what I have to say at the end of the trip: it was fun, but extremely exhausting. I’m pretty sure our friends who travelled to more cities that we did are more exhausted. Here’s a summary of our expenses. Not bad, eh? You can download our full itinerary here. If you have questions, holler! 😀

Item Description MAD USD
Breakfast 2 days 200 20
Lunch 5 days 470 47
Dinner 5 days 590 59
Fes Hotel: 2 nights 532.4 53.24
Chefchaouen Hotel: 2 nights 819.4 81.94
Marrakech Hotel: 2 nights 283.6 28.36
Casablanca Hotel: 2 nights 488.7 48.87
Tavel: Airport to Casablanca 42 4.2
Travel: Casablanca to Fes 348 34.8
Travel: Fes to Chechaouen 150 15
Travel: Chefchaouen to Marrakech 610 61
Travel: Marrakech to Casablanca 296 29.6
Travel: Casablanca to Airport 42 4.2
Fes Cab 40 4
Marrakech Cab 40 4
Casablanca Cab 40 4
Tour Guide Fes 250 25
TOTAL 5242.1 MAD 524.21 USD
Notes: Items in red are the actual amounts.

First written: November 22, 2016 | Published: December 18, 2016 | Copenhagen, Denmark

Moroccan Commute

I’ve been in Morocco for 3 days now and I’m halfway through my Moroccan trip. I should by now be able to say something about commuting in Morocco. It was something I was very afraid of. Other than “merci” and “bonjour”, I have absolutely forgotten everything I’ve learned from previous French classes. I also know no Arabic, and acting out what I need is not my best talent. But I’m pleasantly surprised that everyone in Morocco can speak enough English for tourists like me and my husband to get by. We’ve had no problems buying train and bus tickets; we’ve had no problems checking in at hotels we’ve booked online; and we’ve had no problems ordering food from restaurants (although acting out what we want + Google translate did make life easier for all parties involved).

We arrived at the Mohammad V Airport in Casablanca from Paris, France. Since we did not have any checked-in baggage, we headed directly towards the exit after immigration. Upon exiting, we found a pseudo-information booth that gave free INWI sim cards. The sim cards are preloaded with some text, call and 250MB worth of data. Since neither our Danish nor US mobile phone lines have free sms, call or data in Morocco, these free sim cards are lifesavers. It has allowed us to access Google Translate and Google Maps while on the go.

There were two immediate things that we needed to find upon arrival: an ATM and the place to buy train tickets (trains in Morocco are called ONCF). We needed tickets from the airport to Casablanca and Casablanca to Fes since Fes was our first stop and Casablanca our last.  So, we asked help from one of the airport security personnel who told us that the nearest ATM was beside a coffee shop, on the way to where the trains are. There were, in fact, two ATMs beside the said coffee shop and both worked well (except that one ran out of money when we were there). The ticketing office, on the other hand, was just right at the entrance of where the train platforms are. The salesperson speaks English, and although he gave us the wrong train time for our Casablanca to Fes trip, the guys in Casablanca were able to fix our tickets.

The difference between a first class and a second class train ticket in terms of amenities is really not much. In first class, you get reserved seating and you are placed in a compartment of 6 with overhead luggage storage. The seats are wider and there is more leg room. In second class, seats are on a first come first serve basis. Luggages can be stored a designated corner in each wagon. The seats are arranged much like the seats on busses and airplanes; so not that much leg room. In both classes, there is AC, the seats are comfortable and eating and drinking are allowed.

From Fes, we traveled through the desert by CTM bus to Chefchaouen for 4 hours. There was 25-minute lunch and toilet break after 2 hours of travel. Our bus tickets were reserved by our the manager of the riad we stayed in at Fes. We were initially thinking of just getting it ourselves the day before, but our manager offered to have his friend get it for us as long as we pay the friend’s taxi fare. The taxi fare was 40 MAD roundtrip (around 4 USD). Not a terrible price, so we agreed.

In two days time, we will be traveling by Supratours bus for 10 hours to Marrakech and then from Marrakech, a train ride back to Casablanca. So far, getting hold of tickets and the ride itself has not posed any problems for us. Hopefully this stroke of good luck continues.

November 1, 2016 | Chefchaouen, Morocco

Central Asian Experience

Finally, it has arrived. Today is my last lecture day at the American University at Central Asia. I can finally enjoy a long, relaxing bath without worrying about my lectures for the next day. I can finally move on to other concerns, perhaps google where “Tumar” is, so I can shop for souvenirs, eat the world’s sweetest walnuts, and buy a felt teapot warmer.

It has been a tiring but wonderful week in Kyrgyzstan. The faculty and staff of the Economics and Business Division of the American University at Central Asia have been quite amazing with their hospitality. They took me around Bishkek, booked me an apartment at the city center, hosted many of my meals, booked me a tour to Ala Archa National Park, and provided a sim card and a university card so I can navigate easier. I now have in my possession a bottle of white and red Georgian wines, all because they took me to a Georgian restaurant for dinner.

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The gang at the Ala Archa National Park

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The river is slowly starting to freeze over

I like Bishkek. I feel at home with the culture. I like that people are ethnically international (although they probably only speak Russian). While the cab drivers may not be capable of speaking what to me is understandable English, they were never hostile and I never felt I was being cheated. Waiters and waitresses were respectful. My students are really eager to learn; and despite the class running from 6:30 pm to 9:10 pm, they engage and I see them fight the urge to feel the tiredness of the day. It is very difficult to not like the place. I have absolutely enjoyed my visit here, and I would definitely, definitely want to come back in the future. In my books, the world’s happiest people are the Kyrgyz. They are just extremely pleasant to be with.

October 21, 2016 | Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Here now in Bishkek

I’m finally here. After almost a 4-hour flight from Copenhagen to Istanbul, a 2-hour layover at Istanbul, and almost a 5-hour flight from Istanbul to Bishkek. To say that I am tired is an understatement. As usual, I was not able to sleep during the entire flight. Even after a hot bath and an hour-long nap, I still feel wasted. I start teaching tomorrow, and boy am I worried I’ll start snoring in class. I guess the jetlag does not help either. Bishkek is 4 hours ahead of Copenhagen. That means that if I can’t sleep early and well tonight, there will be hell to pay tomorrow.

I’m pleasantly surprised by how well everything has gone so far. It was very easy to find my gate Istanbul Atatürk Airport. I only had my backpack as a carry-on, so I did have to go through the trouble of justifying why my carry-on should be carried on instead of checked in for free (I don’t understand why someone would refuse a free check-in of their carry-on though, unless you have breakables or electronics inside). I was approached by a woman who spoke no English about her carry-on. I thought she needed help talking to the airline staff about having her carry-on checked in, so I offered to help her talk to the guy. When she called her friend to help with the translation, it turned out she wanted me to carry her carry-on bag aboard the plane because she had too many carry-ons that she did not want to check in. Super weird. But I politely turned her down and told her that I do not carry bags that are not my own. She went on to ask help from someone else.

Both flights, from Copenhagen and from Istanbul, were uneventful. There was no turbulence. Perhaps, the most happening event that occurred for both my flights was the inability of the flight stewards/stewardesses to completely hand-out passenger drinks and meals before the earlier-row passengers finished their meals and started getting up to go to the toilet. Having seated at row 20C and 5D with Turkish Airlines, I greatly recommend seating near the last row if you need frequent toilet access. The acrobatics required to get pass the trolleys just to get to the toilet was crazy.

But in fairness to Turkish airlines, the food was not bad (and the alcoholic beverages were free!). I had the meatballs to Istanbul and the chicken to Bishkek. The meatballs may not look that appetizing, but it was actually pretty good. In fact, it tasted so much better than the chicken.

Greg and Jaya, colleagues from the university I’m connected here in Bishkek met me at the airport and together, we took a cab to where my “home” for 6 days is going to be. The flat they rented out for me is huuuuge!!! And I have my own living room, my own kitchen, and my own bathroom complete with a Japanese a$$-rinsing toilet and an amazingly big bath tub. They also made me breakfast for me, homemade (and too much for one person!). ❤

After freshening up and resting, I agreed to attend a rap concert with  Greg and Jaya. One of Greg’s friends, Ksenia (who will be interviewing me later for an early morning show), was scheduled to perform. Unfortunately, the 5:30 pm rap concert only began 2 hours later, after all the BMX bicycling competition concluded. We decided to walk around the city instead. According to Jaya, I had about seen most of the city during our walk: the president’s palace, the parliament, the state history museum, the philharmonic hall, the Panfilov park, and many more. The day ended with  dinner at this Jordanian restaurant named Pur:Pur. Food was amazing and wine was pretty good.

October 16, 2016 | Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

To Helsingor or Not To Helsingor

Two days ago, Andrew and I decided to do an overnight trip to Helsingor. I’ve always wanted to go, but could never find the time. I’ve also been traveling so much the last few weeks by myself. I just wanted to travel with Andrew for fun before another crazy amount of solo-traveling for work.

So here we are. Elsinore. Also called Helsingor; mostly known for its Kronborg Castle, where Shakespeare’s Hamlet is set. We arrived yesterday from an hour long train ride from Copenhagen, just in time for a surprisingly delicious Chinese lunch at Asia House Restaurant (click here to virtually visit the restaurant). We both had Peking Soup (which seems to be served in most Asian cuisine places in Helsingor), which came as part of the lunch menu. Andrew ordered roast duck with mushrooms. I ordered beef with vegetables. Both orders were served with rice and the servings were enough for one moderately hungry person. Both orders and the soup were quite delicious. In fact, this may be the most authentic-tasting Chinese food I’ve had in Europe since I moved; enough for me to consider taking another one-hour train ride one day just to eat Chinese food.

After lunch, visited the Kronborg Castle. The castle closes at 4pm. It was already 2pm when we got there, so we had to quickly deposit our carry-on bag into one of the castle’s free lockers and move as fast as we can so as to make our entrance well worth it. Luckily, we finished viewing all opened rooms in the castle and even spent a bit of time browsing the gift shop. Embarrassingly, we may have been the last to leave the castle premises. They had to re-open the big doors to let us out, and we had to profusely apologize for putting more work on them.

A recycled fish exhibit just right outside the Kronborg Castle

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A recycled fish exhibit right outside Kronborg Castle

My most and least favorite part of the Kronborg castle where the castle’s casemates. The casemates are gloomy, cold and dark underground passages under the castle. Some of the passages were open to the public. This is by far the longest and most complicated underground passage I’ve ever been to. But I don’t really have much to compare. My only other underground passage experience was in the old city in Accra, Israel. When I visited Accra, most of the passages were blocked, so the entire experience only took 5 minutes. But this one – in Kronborg – took a loooong time. Other than the arrows on the wall, I did not have a guide to lead me. It was eerie. And I had to freakin’ use my cellphone flashlight to help me see the way. I also had to mind my step. Not only was the ground uneven, some had cobblestones, some  were cemented, and some just had sand.

The Kronborg Castle tower offers magnificent views of the city, the Øresund Strait and Sweden at a distance. There are 145 round tower steps, which surprisingly were not as narrow as many round tower steps I’ve taken. I usually hate steps, but this one was not really much of a chore. Other than occasional dizzy spells (because I felt like I was going round in circles both going up and going down the tower), I didn’t really feel a need to stop and catch my breath. In comparison, I would say the Møns Klint staircase is far worse than this.

After 4pm, Andrew and I left the Kronborg castle, walked along the banks and caught a bus to our hotel which was 30 minutes away from the city center. It was the only hotel available at a fairly reasonable price at such a short notice. The hotel has its own restaurant and serves free breakfast.

Unfortunately, if you want to have your lunch and dinner at the hotel as well, you will need to order in advance. The nearest restaurant is 15 minutes west of the hotel (by feet). It’s called the Hamlet Asia Restaurant, an all-you-can-eat fusion Asian cuisine (I know, Asian cuisine in Denmark) for 139 DKK. Soup, main course, and desserts are all in. Drinks are 45 DKK on average.

Tomorrow, we check out of our hotel and travel back to the city center to explore some more. We are also thinking of taking the 7 EUR ferry to Helsingborg, Sweden. Perhaps go shopping at the H&M store there. We’ll see. But we look forward to more adventures. 🙂

October 08, 2016 | Helsingor, Denmark

Oslo is Love

I’m currently in Oslo for a Nordic experimental conference. It’s my third time, second city in Norway. And without me even noticing it, Norway is quickly becoming my favorite Scandinavian country. Everything is just so beautiful. I like how the Norwegians have incorporated cities in nature, I am fascinated by Norwegian architecture and how they utilize space, and I like the fact that diversity is tangible in its capital city.

Today, after the last parallel session, I took a walk around the city center. I sat down and watched ducks paddle on a pond near the royal palace. I was even lucky enough to witness a change in palace guards. It was thoroughly enjoyable, what with their synchronized marching and funky hats. It was also quite funny how tourists would rush to have their pictures taken with the marching guards in the background. Maybe if I was with Andrew, I’d dare to have my photo taken with the same marching guards background as well. :p

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The Royal Palace

I walked along the shoreline, saw a presentation detailing the various architectural buildings in Norway, went in a small grocery store and found that it had a greater product variety that many bigger grocery stores in Copenhagen, and dropped by an Asian food festival. One day, when the cost of spending so much on food and accommodations in Norway is no longer so painful, I would like to come back and play tourist. I think I will like that very much. I think Andrew will too.

 

October 02, 2016 | Oslo, Norway