Scandinavian Saga Part 4: Hello, Helsinki!

After warm and sunny weather in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, day one in Helsinki was rather cold and grey, although at least not wet and stormy as it seemed earlier in the morning on the ferry… Plus we had missed the stretch of a trip that was supposed to be done by car because of the miscommunication in Stockholm… And about 30 pictures from this day (including those from the cemetery) miraculously disappeared from my memory card…. In other words – the beginning of that day was promising :). (Details and stories from the whole trip can be found here).

The National Museum of Finland (Finnish: Suomen kansallismuseo, Swedish: Finlands nationalmuseum) presents Finnish history from the Stone Age to the present day, through objects and cultural history. The Finnish National Romantic style building is located in central Helsinki.
The building of the National Museum was designed by architects Herman Gesellius, Armas Lindgren, and Eliel Saarinen. The appearance of the building reflects Finland’s medieval churches and castles. The architecture belongs to national romanticism and the interior mainly to art nouveau. The museum was built from 1905 to 1910 and opened to the public in 1916. The museum was named the Finnish National Museum after Finland’s independence in 1917.
On Monday 23 January 2006 there was an explosion accident at the National Museum in the Silver Room, which was likely caused by methane leaking into a broom cupboard and lit by a spark from the electrical mains in the closet. Most display cases and some silver objects in the museum’s Silver Room were damaged in the explosion, although most of them only mildly. All objects have been repaired during 2006. The Silver Room was re-opened to the public in early 2007.
Matthias Alexander Castrén, born 2 December 1813 in Tervola, Finland, died 7 May 1852 in Helsinki, was a significant Finnish linguist and traveler. He traveled extensively through many parts of Russia, including Siberia, and other regions, collecting knowledge on little-known or fully unknown languages related to Finnish. In 1841 he published the first Swedish translation of the Finnish national epic Kalevala. He was the University of Helsinki’s first appointed professor in the subject of Finnish in 1851, but died of tuberculosis the following year.

Finnish fun facts:
1) Finland is the most sparsely populated country in the European Union, with only 16 inhabitants per km².
2) There are exactly 187,888 lakes (larger than 500 m²) and 179,584 islands within the territory of Finland. Both are world records.
3) The 120 km Päijänne Water Tunnel is Europe’s longest and the world’s second longest.

Behold! You are looking at a church!
No kidding!

Stones on top of the church…

See – I told you it’s a church. And it functions!

Temppeliaukio Church (Finnish: Temppeliaukion kirkko, Swedish: Tempelplatsens kyrka) is a Lutheran church in the Töölö neighborhood, designed by architects and brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen. It is also known as the Church of the Rock.
Plans for it were started as early as the 1930s when a plot of land was selected for the building and a competition for the design was started. The plan by J. S. Siren, the winner of the second competition to design the architecture of the church, was interrupted in its early stages when World War II began in 1939. After the war, there was another architectural competition, won by the brothers in 1961. For economic reasons, the suggested plan was scaled back and the interior space of the church was reduced to about one-quarter of the original plan. Construction finally began in February 1968, and the rock-temple was completed for consecration in September 1969.

The interior was excavated and built directly out of solid rock and is bathed in natural light which enters through the glazed dome. The church is used frequently as a concert venue due to its excellent acoustics. The acoustic quality is created by the rough, virtually unworked rock surfaces. The iconic rock walls were not included in the original competition entry, even though the Suomalainen brothers had considered the idea, because they believed that it was too radical for the competition jury. But when conductor Paavo Berglund shared his knowledge of acoustics from some of the best music halls and the acoustical engineer Mauri Parjo gave requirements for the wall surfaces the Suomalainen brothers discovered that they could fulfill all the requirements for the acoustics by leaving the rock walls exposed in the Church Hall.
The Temppeliaukio church is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city; half a million people visit it annually.
The church furnishings were designed by the architects. Organ builder Veikko Virtanen manufactured the church organ, which has 43 stops.
There are no bells at the church; a recording of bells composed by Taneli Kuusisto is played via loudspeakers on the exterior wall.

Further fun Finnish facts:
1) Finland has only been an independent country since 1918. Before that it belonged to Russia or Sweden. Nevertheless, it’s been doing very well since.
2) It has been at the top of the worldwide Press Freedom Ranking list every year since the publication of the first index by Reporters Without Borders in 2002.
3) According to the 2007 UNICEF report on child well-being in rich countries, Finland has the highest level of academic achievements of all surveyed countries for reading, mathematics and sciences. However, it also has the lowest percentage of children ‘liking school a lot’ (only 8%).
4) Since 2004, Finland has regularly been ranked as 2nd or 3rd best country for the State of the World’s Mothers by Save the Children.
5) Finnish language (a.k.a. Suomi) is an non Indo-European language belonging to the Uralic family, along with Estonian and Hungarian, as well as some languages spoken by native people of the Russian North.
6) The current president of Finland, Tarja Halonen, is a woman, as are 12 of the 20 government ministers.
7) According to the World Audit study, Finland is the least corrupt and most democratic country in the world as of 2012.
8) Finland obtained respectively the 1st and 2nd position at the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report and Growth Competitiveness Index Ranking in 2006.
9) Finland has been ranked first on the Environmental Sustainability Index of Yale and Columbia University. It was also ranked first for technological achievement by the United Nations Development Program.

Santa Claus (known in Finland as Joulupukki or “Yule Goat”) officially resides in a house built right on top of the Arctic circle, near the town of Rovaniemi, in the northern province of Lappland. The Santa Claus Post Office (address: Santa Claus Village, FIN-96930 Arctic Circle) receives some 700,000 letters every year from children from 198 countries (so far).

More fun Finnish facts:
1) The Finns are the world’s biggest coffee drinkers, gulping down no less than 12 kg of the black substance annually, twice more than the Italians, three times more than the Americans, and four times more than the Brits.
2) Nokia Corporation was the world’s largest manufacturer of mobile telephones from 1998 to 2012, with a global market share of over 35% between 2006 and 2009.
3) Finnish athletes have won more Summer Olympic medals per capita than any other nation. As of 2012, Finland had won in total 302 Summer Olympic medals (incluidng 101 gold medals) for a population of only 5.4 million. That is an average of 55.9 medals (18.7 gold medals) per million people. Finland is only second to Norway for the number of Winter Olympic medals per capita (28.8 medals/million).
4) Drivers from Finland have won more World Rally championships (14 titles) than any other country, and more Formula One championships compared to their country’s population (4 titles for 5 million inhabitants – the next best being Austria with 4 titles for a population of 8 million).

Finland has a nominal per-capita income of over $46,000 (2012). According to some measures, Finland has the best educational system in Europe and has recently been ranked as one of the world’s most peaceful and economically competitive countries. It has also been ranked as one of the world’s countries with the highest quality of life. In 2010, Newsweek magazine ranked Finland as the overall “best country in the world” after summing various factors (including coffee?).

Helsinki was established as a trading town by King Gustav I of Sweden in 1550 as the town of Helsingfors, which he intended to be a rival to the Hanseatic city of Reval (today known as Tallinn). Little came of the plans as Helsinki remained a tiny town plagued by poverty, wars, and diseases.
When Russia defeated Sweden in the Finnish War and annexed Finland as the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland in 1809, the town finally began to develop into a substantial city. During the war, Russians besieged the Sveaborg fortress and about one quarter of the town was destroyed in an 1808 fire.
Czar Alexander I of Russia moved the Finnish capital from Turku to Helsinki in 1812 to reduce Swedish influence in Finland and bring the capital closer to St. Petersburg. Following the Great Fire of Turku in 1827, The Royal Academy of Turku, at the time the country’s only university, was also relocated to Helsinki, and eventually became the modern University of Helsinki. The move consolidated the city’s new role and helped set it on the path of continuous growth. This transformation is highly apparent in the downtown core, which was rebuilt in neoclassical style to resemble St. Petersburg, mostly to a plan by the German-born architect C. L. Engel.

According to archaeological evidence, the area now comprising Finland was settled at the latest around 8500 BCE during the Stone Age as the ice sheet of the last ice age receded.

Once under Russia’s control, Finland didn’t really get a break from what it sought to shelter itself from back since the days of Swedish control. The Finnish famine of 1866–1868 killed 15% of the population, making it one of the worst famines in European history. The famine led the Russian Empire to ease financial regulations, and investment rose in following decades.

In 1906, universal suffrage was adopted in the Grand Duchy of Finland. However, the relationship between the Grand Duchy and the Russian Empire soured when the Russian government made moves to restrict Finnish autonomy. For example, the universal suffrage was, in practice, virtually meaningless, since the czar did not have to approve any of the laws adopted by the Finnish parliament. Desire for independence gained ground, first among radical liberals and socialists.

After the 1917 February Revolution, the position of Finland as part of the Russian Empire was questioned, mainly by Social Democrats. Since the head of state was the Czar of Russia, it was not clear who the chief executive of Finland was after the revolution.
The parliament, controlled by social democrats, passed the so-called Power Act[30] to give the highest authority to parliament. This was rejected by the Russian Provisional Government and by the right-wing parties in Finland. The Provisional Government dissolved the parliament by force, which the social democrats considered illegal since the right to do so had been stripped from the Russians by the Power Act.

New elections were conducted, in which right-wing parties won a slim majority. Some social democrats refused to accept the result and still claimed that the dissolution of the parliament (and thus the ensuing elections) were extralegal.
The October Revolution in Russia changed the game anew. Suddenly, the right-wing parties in Finland started to reconsider their decision to block the transfer of highest executive power from the Russian government to Finland, as radical Communists took power in Russia. Rather than acknowledge the authority of the Power Law of a few months earlier, the right-wing government declared independence on 6 December 1917.

On 27 January 1918, the official opening shots of the war were fired in two simultaneous events. The government started to disarm the Russian forces in Pohjanmaa, and the Social Democratic Party staged a coup. The latter succeeded in controlling southern Finland and Helsinki, but the white government continued in exile from Vaasa. This sparked the brief but bitter civil war.
At the end of the war, after a brief flirtation with monarchy, Finland became a presidential republic, with Kaarlo Juho Ståhlberg elected as its first president in 1919.

Nice name 🙂

Old and new

Colors and banners

St. John’s Church (Finnish: Johanneksenkirkko, Swedish: Johanneskyrkan) stands on a hill that for many centuries had been a place for Midsummer bonfires (Midsummer is now also “John’s Day”, Juhannus in Finnish). It is a Lutheran church designed by the Swedish architect Adolf Melander in the Gothic Revival style. It is the largest stone church in Finland by seating capacity of 2,600 people.
It was built between 1888 and 1893, the third Lutheran church in Helsinki, and still the biggest. The twin towers are 74 meters tall. The church has excellent acoustics, and it is therefore used for big concerts and events as well as services.
The altarpiece shows Saul’s conversion and the painting, called A Divine Revelation, is by Eero Järnefelt, brother-in-law to Jean Sibelius. The composer Oskar Merikanto was an organist here for a time.

Due to many fires, few wooden buildings of the past make it to modern days. A few, however, survive in Helsinki.
Hugo Neuman, an engineer, designed this two-story wooden building in 1876 as a residential villa. After construction it was changed many times so that nowadays only some sections of the walls and the stone foundation remain. Puistokatu 2 and the neighbouring Puistokatu 4 are the only surviving buildings of an earlier more extensive villa district in western Kaivopuisto. The building now houses a day-care center. You can explore other Helsinki’s wooden houses here.

(The tiny) St. Henry’s Cathedral is dedicated to Henry, Bishop of Uppsala. It was constructed between 1858–1860. The architecture of the church is Gothic Revival with statues of Saint Henry, Saint Peter and Saint Paul decorating the exterior.
Since Finland is predominantly Lutheran, the church was intended primarily for use by Catholic foreigners. The church is the main Catholic church in Helsinki, and offers Mass in many languages.

Helsinki has many green, public spaces – great for the summer time weather and the eye of the beholder!

And here we go – more inexplicable statues…

This is actually a cool concept: some of the traffic signs are bent so that they are visible from all angles of approach.

This was actually the very first prominent thing we saw once off the ferry the day before – the Uspenski Cathedral (Finnish: Uspenskin katedraali, Swedish: Uspenskij-katedralen, Russian: Успенский собор, Uspenskij sobor) – an Eastern Orthodox cathedral dedicated to the Dormition of the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary). Its name comes from the Old Church Slavonic word uspenie, which denotes the Dormition. Designed by the Russian architect Alexey Gornostaev, the cathedral was built after his death in 1862–1868.

The Cathedral is set upon a hillside on the Katajanokka peninsula overlooking the city. On the back of the cathedral, there is a plaque commemorating Russian Emperor Alexander II, who was the sovereign of the Grand Duchy of Finland during the cathedral’s construction. Main cathedral of the Finnish Orthodox Church in the diocese of Helsinki, Uspenski Cathedral is claimed to be the largest orthodox church in Western Europe.

The cathedral has several valuable icons, among others St. Nicolas – The Wonder Maker, which was stolen on 16 August 2007 between midday and 1 p.m. in broad daylight while hundreds of tourists were visiting the cathedral. The icon is from the 19th century and is of a rare variant. Originally it was given to the Orthodox Cathedral of Vyborg, from where it was moved to Helsinki during the Second World War. No further details of its origin are known.
The icon, being 45 by 35 centimetres (18 × 14 in), was placed in a kiota (a glass covered protection frame) and weighs a couple of kilograms. It was on display on a lectern. It is now being searched for in Finland as well as abroad.

Taking a very wild guess… the lovers’ bridge?

Ma bad, correction: bridge of love 😀

Helsinki Cathedral (Finnish: Helsingin tuomiokirkko, Suurkirkko; Swedish: Helsingfors domkyrka, Storkyrkan) is the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran cathedral of the Diocese of Helsinki. Most Finns, by the way, only attend church for special ceremonies, such as weddings. Only about 2% attend weekly services. The second largest group in Finland after Lutherans is those without any religious affiliation.

The cathedral was built on the site of the smaller Ulrika Eleonora Church, which was dedicated to its patroness, Ulrika Eleonora, Queen of Sweden. A facsimile of this church, made entirely from snow, was constructed on Senate Square in the early 2000s. Helsinki Old Church was built between 1824 and 1826 in nearby Kamppi to serve the parish while the Ulrika Eleonora Church was being demolished and until the consecration of the new cathedral.
The building was later altered by Engel’s successor Ernst Lohrmann, whose four small domes emphasise the architectural connection to the cathedral’s model, Saint Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg. Lohrmann also erected two free-standing bell towers, as well as larger-than-life sized zinc statues of the Twelve Apostles at the apexes and corners of the roofline. The altarpiece was painted by Carl Timoleon von Neff and donated to the church by emperor Nicholas I. The cathedral was also known as St Nicholas’ Church until Finland’s independence in 1917.

Face-off between the two architects of Helsinki…
Johan Albrecht Ehrenström (1762–1847) was a notable Finnish politician and official who is best remembered as the designer of Helsinki city plan. While the country was under Russian rule and the capital has moved to Helsinki, Ehrenström was selected to be the chairman of the committee in charge of rebuilding the city after a fire that destroyed many of its old wooden structures in 1808. In contrast to the old medieval-style city plan with narrow and winding alleys, his vision for Helsinki was one of wide streets placed on a geometric grid in the fashion of the cities of ancient Greece. This plan was eventually approved by Tsar Alexander I of Russia, Grand Duke of Finland, and the city redesigned, led by German architect Carl Ludvig Engel.
Carl Ludvig Engel, or Johann Carl Ludwig Engel (3 July 1778 – 4 May 1840), was a German architect known for his Empire style, a phase of Neoclassicism. He had a great impact on the architecture of Finland in the first part of the 19th century. He first moved to Tallin due to lack of assignments at home following Napoleon’s victory over Prussia, then again to Turku. He then worked on private assignments in St. Petersburg until his plan for Helsinki reconstruction was approved by the czar. Once in Helsinki, he thought it would be another temporary job patch, but instead he kept receiving more and more assignments all around the city and Finland until in 1824 was appointed Director of Public Housing – a position he held until his death.

Oh, beg pardon – I’ll go to the right one then…

Ateneum museum

The Finnish National Theater (Finnish: Suomen Kansallisteatteri), founded in 1872 in the city of Pori, located at the Central Railway Station Square, is the oldest Finnish-language professional theater in Finland.
For the first thirty years of its existence it functioned primarily as a touring company until it acquired a permanent home in 1902 in the building designed by Onni Tarjanne in the National Romantic style, inspired by romantic nationalism.
The birth of the Finnish National Theater was closely linked to the political ideology of the late nineteenth century. Finland was part of the Russian Empire, and its intellectual elite was Swedish speaking. Finnish language and art, including theater, became the cornerstones of a cultural movement which began in the 1860s, gradually developed political ambitions by the turn of the century, and eventually led to national independence.
The theater established a new production unit in 2010, which was given the name of Touring Stage. This unit, which has no fixed stage, aims to take small-scale touring performances to locations throughout the country which have little or no access to theater, such as schools, day care centers, homes for the elderly, hospitals, welfare reception centers, prisons and so on. The Touring Stage’s program focuses on topical issues which are developed through community research and interaction, reaching out and giving voice to marginalized sectors of society – it’s it super cool?

How often achievements don’t get appreciated till the person dies… In front of the Theater is a statue of Aleksis Kivi, born Alexis Stenvall, (10 October 1834 – 31 December 1872). Kivi was a Finnish author who wrote the first significant novel in the Finnish language, Seven Brothers (Finnish title: Seitsemän veljestä). Although Kivi was among the very earliest authors of prose and lyrics in Finnish language, he is still considered one of the greatest of them all.
Aleksis Kivi was born into a tailor’s family. In 1846 he left for school in Helsinki, and in 1859 he was accepted into the University of Helsinki, where he studied literature and developed an interest in the theater. His first play was Kullervo, based on a tragic tale from the Kalevala.
From 1863 onwards, Kivi devoted his time to writing. He wrote 12 plays and a collection of poetry.
The novel Seven Brothers took him ten years to write. Literary critics, especially the prominent August Ahlqvist, disapproved of the book, at least nominally because of its “rudeness” – Romanticism was in its forte at the time – but maybe also because it was written in the southwestern dialect of Finnish, while Ahlqvist himself preferred the northeastern dialects of his homelands. The Fennomans also disapproved of its depiction of not-so-virtuous rural life that was far from their idealized point of view, and his excessive drinking may have alienated some.
In 1865 Kivi won the State Prize for his still often performed comedy Nummisuutarit (translated as Heath Cobblers by Douglas Robinson). However, the less than enthusiastic reception of his books was taking its toll and he began drinking heavily. His main benefactor Charlotta Lönnqvist could not help him after the 1860s. Physical deterioration and the development of schizophrenia (possibly triggered by advances borreliosis) set in, and Kivi died in poverty at the age of 38.

Just how cool is a city the center of which is a park with a big lake?

This rocks. Explanation:
Around the lake in the Kaisaniemi park one can spot very many Finns doing their jogging laps, outnumbered possibly only by those on bikes. At specified points of the run one can find 4 different exercise stations like this one, fully equipped (and in pristine condition) for specific exercises.
Each station also features a touch-screen TV where all possible exercises for that given station are shown by male and female models. You can also look up on the map where the next station is and what you can do there. Best part? They ARE being used! I spent about 5 minutes taking a rest from my insane city-run and in that short time one guy dropped in for some sit-ups! Wooot! Seriously – only in Scandinavia!

On that juicy note the official part of my visit to the Scandinavia has Finnished :). My only regret is that it was impossible to take the HEL 666 flight back home because this one was, obviously, in-bound to Helsinki… Maybe next time! 😀

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Scandinavian Saga Part 3: Sweden and the Stockholm Syndrome

Denmark and Norway are left behind… Welcome to Sweden 🙂 (the full story of the road trip can be found here)

Sweden is the third-largest country in the European Union by area, with a total population of about 9.5 million.
Since the early 19th century Sweden has generally been at peace and has largely avoided war. It is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy form of government and a highly developed economy.
Sweden has the world’s eighth-highest per capita income. In 2013, it ranked second in the world on the Democracy Index, seventh (tied with Ireland) on the 2013 UN Human Development Index (third on the inequality-adjusted HDI), second on the 2013 OECD Better Life Index and third on the 2012 Legatum Prosperity Index.
In 2012, the World Economic Forum ranked Sweden as the fourth-most competitive country in the world. According to the UN, it has the third-lowest infant mortality rate in the world. In 2010, Sweden also had one of the lowest Gini coefficients of all developed countries (0.25), making it one of the world’s most equal countries in terms of income, though not in terms of wealth (wealth Gini coefficient of 0.85, which is higher than the European average of 0.8).
In 2013, The Economist declared that the Nordic countries “are probably the best-governed in the world,” with Sweden in first place. Also in 2013, The Reputation Institute declared Sweden to be the 2nd most reputable country on earth.
Despite the fact that Sweden is a constitutional monarchy, The Economist Intelligence Unit in 2010 listed Sweden in fourth place in its index of democracy among 167 assessed countries. King Carl XVI Gustaf is the current head of state, but royal power has long been limited to ceremonial and representative functions. The nation’s actual legislative body is the Riksdag (Swedish Parliament), with 349 members, which chooses the Prime Minister. Parliamentary elections are held every four years, on the third Sunday of September.

Sweden emerged as an independent and unified country during the Middle Ages. In the 17th century, the country expanded its territories to form the Swedish Empire. The empire grew to be one of the great powers of Europe in the 17th and early 18th century.
Most of the conquered territories outside the Scandinavian Peninsula were lost during the 18th and 19th centuries. The eastern half of Sweden, present-day Finland, was lost to Russia in 1809. The last war in which Sweden was directly involved was in 1814, when Sweden by military means forced Norway into a personal union. Since then, Sweden has been at peace, practicing “non-participation in military alliances during peacetime and neutrality during wartime”.

The Swedish Viking Age lasted roughly between the 8th and 11th centuries. It is believed that Swedish Vikings and Gutar mainly traveled east and south, going to Finland, the Baltic countries, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, the Black Sea and further as far as Baghdad. Their routes passed through the Dnieper south to Constantinople, on which they carried out numerous raids.
The Byzantine Emperor Theophilos noticed their great skills in war, and invited them to serve as his personal bodyguard, known as the Varangian Guard.
The Swedish Vikings, called Rus are believed to be the founding fathers of Kievan Rus’, and thus of modern Russia. All the Tsars of Russia until the last one, Nicholas II, were of Swedish Viking descent.
The Arab traveller Ibn Fadlan described these Vikings as follows:
“I have seen the Rus as they came on their merchant journeys and encamped by the Itil. I have never seen more perfect physical specimens, tall as date palms, blond and ruddy; they wear neither tunics nor caftans, but the men wear a garment which covers one side of the body and leaves a hand free. Each man has an axe, a sword, and a knife, and keeps each by him at all times. The swords are broad and grooved, of Frankish sort.”

Fun fact: a large number of children inherited the Swedish crown over the course of the kingdom’s existence; consequently real power was held for long periods by regents (notably those of the Sture family) chosen by the Swedish parliament.
In 1520 King Christian II of Denmark, who asserted his claim to Sweden by force of arms, ordered a massacre of Swedish nobles in Stockholm that came to be known as the “Stockholm blood bath” and stirred the Swedish nobility to new resistance. On June 6 (now Sweden’s national holiday, sometimes considered as the foundation of modern Sweden), 1523 they made Gustav Vasa their king.

The Hanseatic League had been officially formed at Lübeck on the Baltic coast of Northern Germany in 1356. It sought civil and commercial privileges from the princes and royalty of the countries and cities along the coasts and, being in possession of its own navy, offered a certain amount of protection, including full riddance of pirates, in exchange.
The privileges obtained by the Hansa included agreement to be free of all customs and taxes and assurances that only its citizens would be allowed to trade from the ports where they were located. With these concessions, Lübeck merchants flocked to Stockholm, where they soon came to dominate the economic life of the city, and made the port city of Stockholm into the leading commercial and industrial. Two-thirds of Stockholm’s imports at the time consisted of textiles and one-third of salt, while exports consisted of iron and copper.
However, the Swedes began to resent the monopoly trading position of the Hansa and income lost to them. Consequently, when Gustav Vasa (Gustav I) broke their monopoly power, he was regarded as a hero, now viewed as the father of the modern Swedish nation. When Sweden began to develop, freed itself from the Hanseatic League, and entered its golden era, the fact that the peasantry had traditionally been free meant that more of the economic benefits flowed back to them rather than going to a feudal landowning class, ensuring greater prosperity to the entire nation rather than to a select few.

Swedes are smart. Tycho Brahe, born in 1546 in an area of present-day Sweden which was then Denmark, made the careful astronomic observations upon which Kepler proved and quantified the heliocentric Copernican solar system.
Although it took a while for Sweden to industrialize, it caught up pretty fast and has been going strong ever since. Nowadays it also has the the second-highest in the world percentage of GDP (over 3.5%), public and the private sector combined, allocated to research & development per year.
In the 18th century Sweden’s scientific revolution took off full throttle.
In 1739, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences was founded, with people such as Carolus Linnaeus and Anders Celsius as early members. Many of the companies founded by early pioneers still remain major international brands. Gustaf Dalén founded AGA, and received the Nobel Prize for his sun valve. Alfred Nobel invented dynamite and instituted the Nobel Prizes. Lars Magnus Ericsson started the company bearing his name, Ericsson – still one of the largest telecom companies in the world. Jonas Wenström was an early pioneer in alternating current and is along with Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla credited as one of the inventors of the three-phase electrical system.
The traditional engineering industry is still a major source of Swedish inventions, but pharmaceuticals, electronics and other high-tech industries are gaining ground. Tetra Pak was an invention for storing liquid foods, invented by Erik Wallenberg. Losec, an ulcer medicine, was the world’s best-selling drug in the 1990s and was developed by AstraZeneca. More recently Håkan Lans invented the Automatic Identification System, a worldwide standard for shipping and civil aviation navigation. A large portion of the Swedish economy is to this day based on the export of technical inventions, and many large multinational corporations from Sweden have their origins in the ingenuity of Swedish inventors. Swedish inventors held 41,735 patents in the United States in 2012, according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Only ten other countries hold more patents than Sweden.

Random trivia facts about Sweden:
1) As of 2006, it had won 588 (winter and summer) Olympic medals – a feat only excelled by 6 much more populous countries (the USA, the USSR, Italy, France, Germany and the UK).
2) In 2006 Swedes had the longest life expectancy in Europe (80.51 years). As of 2010 they were fifth (80.88 years), overtaken by Switzerland, Italy, Iceland and France.
3) Swedish women have their first child in average at 30 years old – the oldest in Europe along with Ireland and the Netherlands.
4) It has the highest percentage of working mothers in the developed world – 76%.
5) The Swedes spend the longest time in tertiary education with an average student age of 25.5.
6) 40% of women and 32% of men aged 25 to 64 participate in education or training. Compare it to the EU average is 10% for women and 9% for men.
7) It has the highest proportion of personal computers per capita in Europe – 500 per 1,000 people.
8) A 2007 UNICEF report on child well-being in rich countries ranked Sweden as the best country on 3 out of 6 dimensions (children’s material well-being, health & safety, and behaviours & risks), and second best country overall after the Netherlands.
9) As of 2006, it was the most generous country in the world regarding aid to poor countries. It is the only nation where donations exceed 1% of the GDP.
10) The maternity and paternity leave is one of the longest and most generous in the world, allowing the the father and mother to take a shared total of 480 days (16 months) off at 77.6% of their salary.
11) Some of the greatest pop bands and singers, including Abba, The Cardigans, Roxette, Ace of Base, Carola Häggkvist, Army of Lovers, Robyn, A*Teens, Europe and Alcazar, come from Sweden.
12) The astronomical lense is a Swedish invention.

When the headlight went out and we stopped to check on it, there wasn’t anything attention-worthy around, so I just took a picture of a random chopper on the roof…

Honey-hued haze

Probably one of the coziest and more stylish hostel lobbies I’ve ever seen

This babe, while now stationed in harbor, is an actual cruise ship crossing over to Helsinki and other locations back in its days.

The af Chapman, formerly the Dunboyne (1888–1915) – after a town in Ireland – and the G.D. Kennedy (−1923), is a full-rigged steel ship moored on the western shore of the islet Skeppsholmen in central Stockholm, Sweden, now serving as a youth hostel (so you basically get a view of one ship-hostel from another :D).
Its maiden voyage was from Maryport, Cumberland to Portland, Oregon and it subsequently made voyages between Europe, Australia and the west coast of America. On its arrival in Sweden in 1915 the Swedish Navy bought it and renamed it in 1923 after the shipbuilder and Vice Admiral Fredrik Henrik af Chapman (1721–1808). The Navy used it as a training ship and as such it made several trips around the world before serving as a barracks during WW2. Its final voyage was in 1934.
In 1947 the Stockholm City Museum saved the ship from being broken up, and since 1949 af Chapman has been managed by the Svenska Turistföreningen (STF, Swedish Tourist Association).

This night and the night on the ferry for some reason I couldn’t stop thinking of “I’m on a Boat”… (If you don’t know it, here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7yfISlGLNU 😀 )

The beating heart

Glaring brass

It was very foggy in the morning when we rushed to the station. Unfortunately, we were in too much of a hurry to capture more images of the awakening city, so this is the only relatively foggy one…
Stockholm’s medieval Cathedral, aka the Church of Saint Nicholas, best known as Storkyrkan (The Great Church) was built in 1279. It houses unique objects such as the St George and the Dragon sculpture (1489), the legendary Vädersoltavlan (1535) and Lena Lervik’s sculpture ”Joseph and Mary” (2002).
It is the the oldest building that is still in use in Stockholm, is the residence of the bishop of Stockholm and is a royal coronation, wedding and burial church. Since 1527, the Cathedral has been a Lutheran church. The Church is open to the public and has ceremonies every Sunday.

More random trivia facts about Sweden 🙂 :
1) Sweden has the smallest gender employment-rate gap in the developed world, with only 4% more men in employment than women.
2) With 47% of female parliamentarians (in 2006), it also has the highest proportion of women lawmakers in the world.
3) In 1862, it became the first country to grant suffrage for (married) women, although only for local elections.
4) Sweden is set to become the first country in the world to phase out petrol for biofuel.
5) It has the highest number of nuclear plants per capita, with 10 reactors for 9 million inhabitants.
6) Sweden ranks second in Europe (after Finland) in terms of technological achievement.
7) Founded in Stockholm in 1995, the Metro newspapers has quickly become the world’s leading free newspaper intended for commuters.As of late 2009, there were 56 daily editions in 19 countries in 15 languages across Europe, North and South America and Asia.
8) Sweden has, along with Denmark and Hungary, the highest standard V.A.T. rate in the world (25%).
9) Total taxation in Sweden amount to 54.2 % of GDP, the highest level worldwide.
10) In 2012 the Swedish company Ericsson was the world’s largest manufacturer of mobile telecommunications networks, with 38% of global market share.
11) Sweden has an excellent reputation as a car maker with Volvo and Saab. Scania trucks are also Swedish.
12) The world-famous discount furniture chain IKEA was founded in Sweden in 1943.
13) The Swedish company Electrolux holds 28% share of the household appliances market in the world. It owns over 40 brands, including AEG-Electrolux, Zanussi, Eureka and Frigidaire.
14) Europe’s largest shopping mall is the Nordstan in Gothenburg, with approximately 180 shops and 150 offices on 320,000 m².
15) The Stockholm Globe Arena is the world’s largest hemispherical building, with a diameter of 110 meters, an inner height of 85 meters, and a total volume of 600,000 m³. It is also the world’s largest scale model of the Solar System.

An interesting site for a currently neutral nation – reminder of its former empire days.

The areas around the Central Station were under construction and, obviously, one should wear protective helmet while at a construction site…

Central Station ceiling. Turns out there is a by far more interesting piece of art in that building, but as I hadn’t captured a snap of it – I’ll leave it till the next time 🙂

It was finally time for the city tour (although it was probably one of the least informative ones I had so far come across…). It started off well though – with a nice little story of the Stadsholmen island, on which Gamla stan – the old city of Stockholm – can be found. To appreciate the story, keep in mind that Stockholm is sometimes referred to as Venice of the North for its beauty, its buildings and architecture, its abundant clean and open water, and its many parks.
With that in mind, note that if you walk around the island, it is shaped as a small hill. This had a good reason back in the days before actual sewage systems: so that all human waste would be easily flushed and washed off of the island by the rains. Since that little piece of land was very densely populated in its time, this was a crucial design feature.
In addition to keeping the streets relatively clean, however, over the course of many years so much has been washed off off the island that its area eventually increased by 20-30%… So basically a large part of this particular Northern ‘Venetian’ island is made up of feces :).

Clear blue skies

Besides learning that IKEA (and H&M) are Swedish brands, we also heard the story of a beloved Swedish queen Margaret I thus far in the day.
Margaret I (March 1353 – 28 October 1412) was the Queen of Denmark, Norway and Sweden and founder of the Kalmar Union, which united the Scandinavian countries for over a century. She acted as queen regnant of Denmark, although in those days it was not the Danish custom for a woman to reign.
Margaret was the sixth and youngest child of Valdemar IV of Denmark and Helvig of Schleswig. In 1359 as a six-year year old engaged to the 18-year-old King Haakon VI of Norway as a part of the Nordic power struggle, the goal of the marriage being King Valdemar regaining Scania, which since 1332 had been mortgaged to Sweden. In June 1359, However, Eric “XII” of Sweden, who in 1356 was hailed as king there and had been given dominion over Southern Sweden, died, which meant that the balance of power changed and all agreements between Magnus and Valdemar were terminated, including the marriage contract between Margaret and Haakon.
Later, negotiations were opened between King Magnus and Henry of Holstein about a marriage between Haakon and the latter’s sister Elizabeth. On 17 December 1362 a ship left with Elizabeth, bound for Sweden. A storm, however, saw that she ended up on the Danish island Bornholm, from where Elisabeth was taken to the archbishop of Lund, who declared that the wedding was a violation of church law because Haakon had already been engaged to Margaret.In the end, the wedding was held in Copenhagen on 9 April 1363.
Margaret probably remained in Denmark for a while after the wedding, but was soon taken to Akershus in Oslo Fjord, where she was raised by Merete Ulvsdatter – a distinguished noblewoman.
In the years after Margaret’s wedding Scandinavia saw a series of major political upheavals. A few months after her wedding her only brother, Christopher, Duke of Lolland, died. This meant that Denmark was without an heir to the throne and her father without a male heir. In 1364 the Swedish nobles deposed Magnus Smek and Margaret’s husband King Haakon from the Swedish throne and elected Albert of Mecklenburg as king of Sweden.

Margaret’s first act after her father’s death in 1375 was to procure the election of her infant son Olaf as king of Denmark, despite the claims of her elder sister’s Ingeborg’s husband Duke Henry III of Mecklenburg and their son Albert. He was too young to rule in his own right, and Margaret proved herself a competent and shrewd ruler in the years that followed. On the death of Haakon in 1380, Olaf succeeded him as King of Norway. Olaf died suddenly in 1387, aged 17, and Margaret, who had ruled both kingdoms in his name, was chosen Regent of Norway and Denmark in the following year. She had already proven her keen statesmanship by recovering possession of Schleswig from the Holstein-Rendsburg Counts.
In the meantime, in Sweden mutinous nobles were already in arms against their unpopular King Albert. Several of the powerful nobles wrote to Margaret that if she would help rid Sweden of Albert, she would become their regent. She quickly gathered an army and invaded Sweden. At a conference held at Dalaborg Castle in March 1388, the Swedes were compelled to accept all of Margaret’s conditions, elected her “Sovereign Lady and Ruler”, and committed themselves to accept any king she chose to appoint. On 24 February 1389 Albert, who had called her “King Pantsless” and had returned from Mecklenburg with an army of mercenaries, was routed and taken prisoner at Aasle near Falköping, and Margaret was now the omnipotent mistress of three kingdoms.
Stockholm, then almost entirely a German city, still held out. Fear of Margaret induced both the Mecklenburg princes and the Wendish towns to hasten to its assistance; and the Baltic and the North Sea speedily swarmed with the privateers of the Victual Brothers. The Hanseatic League intervened, and under the Compact of Lindholm (1395), Margaret released Albert on his promise to pay 60,000 marks within three years. Meanwhile, the Hansa were to hold Stockholm as surety. Albert failed to pay his ransom within the stipulated time, and the Hansa surrendered Stockholm to Margaret in September 1398 in exchange for commercial privileges.
It had been understood that Margaret should, at the first convenient opportunity, provide the three kingdoms with a king who was to be a kinsman of all the three old dynasties, although in Norway it was specified that she would continue ruling alongside the new king. In 1389 she proclaimed her great-nephew, Eric of Pomerania, king of Norway, having adopted him and his sister Catherine. In 1396, and Margaret once again assumed the regency during his minority. To weld the united kingdoms still more closely together, Margaret summoned a congress of the three Councils of the Realm to Kalmar in June 1397, and on Trinity Sunday, 17 June, Eric was crowned King of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. At 18-year-old Eric was declared of age and homage was rendered to him in all his three kingdoms, although Margaret was the effective ruler of Scandinavia throughout her lifetime.
Margaret recovered for the Crown all the landed property that had been alienated in the troubled times before the reign of Valdemar IV. This so-called reduktion, or land-recovery, was carried out with the utmost rigour, and hundreds of estates fell into the hands of the crown.
Margaret died suddenly of the plague on board her ship in Flensburg Harbor on 28 October 1412. Her sarcophagus, made by the Lübeck sculptor Johannes Junge in 1423, is situated behind the high altar in the Roskilde Cathedral, near Copenhagen. She had left property to the Cathedral on the condition that Masses for her soul would be said regularly in the future. This was discontinued in 1536, during the Reformation, but a special bell is still rung twice daily in commemoration of the Queen.

Hötorget (Haymarket) is a square where, as you may have guessed, the market can be found. Fruits and vegetables are sold during 6 week’s days and flea markets are organized on Sundays. More interesting, however, than the market itself is the building, from the stairs of which the picture was taken…

This weirdly colored blue building smack in the middle of the city is the Concert Hall by architect Ivar Tengbom. More notably than that though – this is exactly where the Nobel Prizes are awarded (except the Peace Prize, awarded by Norway).
As of late 2012, Sweden had obtained 30 Nobel prizes, including 5 for Peace. This is the 5th highest number of laureates in the world, and the highest per capita ratio for any country with over 1 million inhabitants.

The Orpheus Group – a fountain by Carl Milles.
The statue depicts Orpheus descending into Hades to fetch his beloved wife Eurydice. The short summary of this (very stupid, actually, in my view) story that I finally learned in full having seen the opera recently, is the following:
Orpheus’s wife dies. He’s so heartbroken and whiny about it gods can’t stand his tears any more and offer him a chance to get her back. He only needs to descend into the Hades, pacify the souls there to allow him the passage across the river of death, find her and get her out without looking at her or telling her why he can’t do it (reason being, she’d then be lost for SURE sure to death). He does all that. Eurydice – the stupid bitch, really – however, can’t get over the fact that he won’t look at her and goes “man, you no like me no more? Me no pretty? Y u no look at me?” all the time (yeah, like the fact that your dude went into the kingdom of the DEAD to get your ass isn’t a sign enough of affection…).
Now, instead of saying “I can’t tell you anything now, I will once we’re out, let’s go”, he goes all whiny about how difficult it is not to look at his beloved wifie. Roughly 5 meters from the exit to the world of the living he “can’t take it any more” (like, he could all the time she was dead and the whole journey back, but maaaaan those last 5 meters were just the last straw, 4 real!), looks back. She dies. Again – but this time irreversibly. Aaaaand he’s all heart-brokenly sad about it… Seriously, probably the stupidest one of Greek myths, and I love that stuff!!!

Anyway, back to the fountain itself.
Orpheus is the central figure. In Greek Mythology he was considered the greatest of all musicians with an ability to charm all living things and even stones with his lyre music. Here he is depicted on the epic journey to bring back Eurydice from the land of dead, which you already know didn’t really go too well.
Orpheus is surrounded by 8 male and female figures. One of those male figures has Beethoven’s facial features, for he was a symbol of a great, suffering artistic genius to C. Milles .
When Orpheus finally met his own death, the birds wept on the hillside, the trees shed their leaves and the nearby streams were swollen with their own tears. Orpheus’ spirit went down to the Underworld where he FINALLY got back together again with his beloved Eurydice.

The million-dollar man Sven Olof Joachim Palme was a Swedish Social Democratic politician, statesman and prime minister. He was a highly controversial politician that was as much loved as hated, supporter of gender equality and a man who left quite a trail of political change.
For instance, Olof Palme carried out major reforms in the Swedish constitution such as orchestrating a switch from bicameralism to unicameralism in 1969 and in 1975 replacing the 166-year-old Instrument of Government (at the time the oldest political constitution in the world after that of the United States) with a new one officially establishing parliamentary democracy rather than de jure monarchic autocracy, abolishing the Privy Council of Sweden and stripping King Carl XVI Gustav of most rights held even by ceremonial monarchs in Denmark, Norway and the United Kingdom.
While walking home from a cinema with his wife Lisbet Palme in the central Stockholm street Sveavägen, close to midnight on 28 February 1986, the couple was attacked by an assassin at this very spot. Palme was fatally shot in the back at close range. A second shot was fired at Lisbet Palme, the bullet grazing her back but not causing serious injury.
The reason why Palme is a million-dollar-man is that this is the official compensation for anyone who would lead to the arrest of his murderer. Many versions and suspects have been named over the years; one drug addict was even arrested but later released. The latest version is that the assassination had been carried out by an operative of the Yugoslavian UDBA who now lives in Zagreb, Croatia, as reported in January 2011 by the German magazine Focus, which cited German interrogation records in connection with another investigation from 2008.
Still, nothing is set in stone, so if you need some money and can’t win a Nobel Prize (which by the way was considered a bit outrageous during the recession and reduced to 800 000$) – here’s your chance :).

Normally people want to look thinner… Whoever constructed this staircase thought it would be fun to do the exact opposite. As one ascends this staircase, one begins to look bigger and bigger, despite the distance! But worry not – it isn’t some magic Alice in Wonderland land – it’s just an optical illusion. The staircase narrows as it reaches up, making it look as if (in proportion to its width), the ascending person is ‘growing’ 🙂

It’s kind of tricky to see the effect from the pictures…

When the WWII, in which Sweden remained neutrality, although had suffered from German occupation, has ended, people poured out into this street to celebrate. Apparently, there is even a pretty famous photo of this celebration. While at it, for a lack of confetti, people were tearing up random pieces of paper and throwing them into the air to accentuate the festive mood.
This would have all been nice and dandy, save for one little detail: most of the houses on that street at the time were accounting offices and other financial institutions… If you’re catching the drift – the papers torn up to shreds and thrown into the air were, therefore, pretty much invoices, contracts and other legal documents… Basically absolutely everyone was happy about the end of the war – except for accountants and, later on, some of their clients…

There is a famous club in this building where the ‘it’ crowd hangs out and gets very drunk – in case you wondered where to go at night :D.

These aren’t statues for a random exhibition but the actual markers that are meant to keep the cars off the sidewalks. Pretty neat!

Part 1 of the building that gave the field of Psychology the term of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’. It is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness. The term does not have to apply to a hostage situation, however, and extends to any relationship in which one of those involved exerts power over another and abuses it through violent behavior.
The term ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ was coined by the criminologist and psychiatrist Nils Bejerot as “Norrmalmstorgssyndromet” but it became known as “Stockholm Syndrome” abroad. It was originally defined by psychiatrist Frank Ochberg to aid the management of hostage situations.

Part 2. Nowadays it’s a hotel and office building, but it used to be Kreditbanken bank.
Stockholm syndrome is named after the robbery of that bank at Norrmalmstorg square – the exact building you’re now looking at. Several bank employees were held hostage in a bank vault from August 23 to August 28, 1973, while their captors negotiated with police. It was so intense that it was the first criminal event in Sweden covered by live television.
During this standoff, the victims became emotionally attached to their captors, rejected assistance from government officials at one point, and even defended their captors after they were freed from their six-day ordeal, to the point of forming a human shield in front of them when they were leaving the building to ensure police would not shoot at them.
The story of the negotiations was fairly interesting in and of itself. The main perpetrator was Jan-Erik “Janne” Olsson, at that time on leave from prison. During those days, he made several demands that were rejected, including those for 3 million Swedish Kronor, two guns, bulletproof vests, helmets, and a fast car. The one demand that the officials satisfied (bizarrely) was to bring one of his good friends Clark Olofsson – a repeat offender who had committed several armed robberies and acts of violence, the first committed at the age of 16 – from the prison and into the bank…
Police attempted several ways of overtaking the robbers. A hole was drilled into the vault and a widely circulated picture of Olsson was taken, but shooting inside the vault was given up as risky because ricochet bullets could injure the hostages. Olsson additionally threatened that if gas was used, the hostages would be killed because he tied them by their necks so that the weight of their unconscious bodies would strangle them.
When eventually it became clear that they won’t be walking out of the bank free, the robbers came up with a rather genius plan: they stuffed office envelopes with cash, signed the address of Olssen’s mother on it and spread the filled envelopes into all post boxes of the bank. The clerks have mailed out a significant total sum of money the very next business day and the robbers got it after just a few years behind the bars.
Notably, during the trial Olofsson appealed to the fact that he would have never been involved in the robbery had not the government officials themselves decided to put him into that bank, and wasn’t helping the robbery but just trying to diffuse the situation by keeping everyone calm, so all the charges were dropped. He later met hostage Kristin Enmark several times, their families becoming friends.

Nothing to see here – just a tin one-legged poultry on a city square…

Looks like one fine woman I mentioned earlier… Any guesses? 🙂

The Royal Dramatic Theatre (Swedish: Kungliga Dramatiska Teatern or Dramaten) is Sweden’s national stage for “spoken drama”, founded in 1788. Around one thousand shows are put on annually on the theatre’s eight running stages.
The theatre has been at its present location in the Art Nouveau building at Nybroplan, Stockholm since 1908. The theatre was built by the architect Fredrik Lilljekvist. Famous artists like Carl Milles and Carl Larsson were involved in making the decorations, and some of the interior decorations were made by Prince Eugen.

Jöns Jacob Berzelius was a Swedish chemist considered, along with Robert Boyle, John Dalton, and Antoine Lavoisier, to be one of the founders of modern chemistry.
Berzelius began his career as a physician but his researches in physical chemistry were of more lasting significance. He is especially noted for his determination of atomic weights and a more complete depiction of the principles of stoichiometry, or the field of chemical combining proportions.
This work led to the development of a modern system of chemical formula notation that could portray the composition of any compound both qualitatively (by showing its electrochemically opposing ingredients) and quantitatively (by showing the proportions in which the ingredients were united). In addition, his system abbreviated the Latin names of the elements with one or two letters and applied superscripts to designate the number of atoms of each element present in both the acidic and basic ingredients.
Berzelius himself discovered and isolated several new elements, including cerium (1803) and thorium (1828). He was a strict empiricist and insisted that any new theory be consistent with the sum of chemical knowledge. He developed classical analytical techniques, and investigated isomerism and catalysis, phenomena that owe their names to him. He became a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1808 and served from 1818 as its principal functionary, the perpetual secretary.
Berzelius had an effect on biology as well. He was the first person to make the distinction between organic compounds (those containing carbon), and inorganic compounds. The term “protein” was also coined by Berzelius. Berzelius Day is celebrated on 20 August.

The tour had ended with a story that the Royal Palace was so big that the poor person’s job of lighting the candles in its halls never ended because by the time he’d light the last one, the first one would have burned out, although that sounds like a very common tale for big royal residences… After all, the court could well employ 10 such people and avoid the ‘perpetual motion’ trouble a single person would be subject to… So I ran around the rest of the city on my own… (By the way, most of the information in the captions was not from the tour itself…)

The vast majority of Stockholm residents work in the service industry, which accounts for roughly 85% of jobs in Stockholm. The almost total absence of heavy industry (and fossil fuel power plants) makes Stockholm one of the world’s cleanest metropolises.

…Don’t ask me – I don’t know!..

Saint James’s Church (Swedish: Sankt Jacobs kyrka) is a church dedicated to apostle Saint James the Greater, patron saint of travelers – so no wonder I stumbled upon it :D. Although maybe its location had more to do with it, for it is arguably the most central church in the Swedish capital, surrounded by the popular park Kungsträdgården, the Royal Opera, the square Gustaf Adolfs torg; and near Sergels torg, the Royal Palace, and governmental office Rosenbad. It is often mistakenly called St Jacob’s. The confusion arises because Swedish, like many other languages, uses the same name for both James and Jacob. A bust of Swedish tenor Jussi Björling (1911-1960) stands outside.

The church took a long time to complete. As a consequence it includes a wide range of architectural styles, such as Late Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque. The building is based on the design of multiple architects over the centuries: Willem Boy (1580–93), Hans Ferster (1635–43), Göran Joshuae Adelcrantz and Carl Hårleman (1723–35), Carl Möller and Agi Lindegren (1893–94).

Only odd people allowed to enter?

Diana Fountain I can be found at the inner yard of Tändstickspalatset – an office building on West Tradgardsgatan 15.

This is on the wall of the building opposite the Matchstick Palace and if anyone knows what a heck it is – let me know 🙂

Get off of me!!!

As opposed to, I dunno – nice coffee? 😀 😀 😀 For all the lovers of coffee with a character 😀

The Church of Saint Clare or Klara Church (Swedish: Klara kyrka). It is located on Klara Västra Kyrkogata in the Klara area in lower Norrmalm. The graveyard, which has had the same location since the 17th century, is almost surrounded by modern buildings.
The convent and church of St. Clare was founded on the site in 1280s. Gustav Vasa had the church and convent torn down in 1527 and construction of the current church started in 1572 under Johan III by architect Willem Boy. The congregation gives out bread and coffee to the homeless, so the graveyard and nearby steps are often occupied by homeless people. Classical concerts are held at midday. Admission is free.

Under the bridge

This pretty little building is no less than International IDEA – Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance – an intergovernmental organization supporting sustainable democracy around the world.

The seat of the Riksdag – Swedish Parliament – at Parliament House (Swedish: Riksdagshuset) on the island of Helgeandsholmen.

The Riddarholmen Church (Swedish: Riddarholmskyrkan) is the burial church of the Swedish monarchs. It is located on the island of Riddarholmen. Swedish monarchs from Gustavus Adolphus (d. 1632 AD) to Gustaf V (d. 1950) are entombed here (with exceptions such as Queen Christina who is buried within St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome), as well as the earlier monarchs Magnus III (d. 1290) and Charles VIII (d. 1470). It has been discontinued as a royal burial place in favor of the Royal Cemetery.
It is one of the oldest buildings in Stockholm, parts of it dating to the late 13th century, when it was built as a greyfriars monastery. After the Protestant Reformation, the monastery was closed and the building transformed into a Protestant church. A spire designed by Willem Boy was added during the reign of John III, but it was destroyed by a strike of lightning on July 28, 1835 after which it was replaced with the present cast iron spire.
Coats of arms of knights of the Order of the Seraphim are in the walls of the church. When a knight of the Order dies, his coat of arms is hung in the church and when the funeral takes place the church bells are rung constantly from 12:00 to 13:00.

Galloping through the Gamla stan (The Old Town) on Stadsholmen island.

Stockholm derives its mythological origin from a dwelling place called Agnefit. As the second element ‘fit’ means ‘moist meadow’, this place was supposedly located on the western shore of today’s Stadsholmen (arguably the only possible location for a meadow at the time). The first element of this name is, explains the historian Snorri Sturluson (1178–1241), derived from King Agne, a presumably mythological king who, in a dim and distant past (around 400 A.D. according to some historians), encamped here after having successfully raided Finland.
His intentions were to marry Skjalf, the daughter of the defeated Finnish chieftain. The young woman, however, tricked him to arrange a celebration including prominent guests which eventually turned into a boozing party, and, while Agne slept, Skjalf had him hung in his gold necklace before escaping.
While the reliability of this story remains disputed, dendrochronological examinations of logs found on Helgeandsholmen just north of Stadsholmen in 1978-1980, concluded these trees were cut down during the period 970-1020, most of them from the later part of that period, and these logs presumably gave the entire city its present name, Stock-holm, “Log-Islet”

The original wall-enclosed city only encompassed the central elevated area of the present old town located between the two long streets — Västerlånggatan and Österlånggatan (i.e. “Western/Eastern Long Street”) — which passed between the shorelines of the era and the eastern and western city walls. That town dates back to the 13th century and consists of medieval alleyways, cobbled streets, and archaic architecture with strong North German influence.

The restaurant Den Gyldene Freden is located on Österlånggatan. It has been in business since 1722 and according to the Guinness Book of Records is the oldest existing restaurant with an unaltered interior.
Bollhustäppan, a small courtyard at Slottsbacken behind Finska kyrkan, just south of the main approach to the Royal Palace, is home to one of the smallest statues in Sweden, a little boy in wrought iron. The plaque just below the statue says its name “Järnpojken” (“The Iron Boy”). It was created by Liss Eriksson in 1967.

From the mid 19th to the mid 20th century this charming little place was considered a slum, many of its historical buildings left in disrepair, and just after WW2, several blocks together with five alleys were demolished for the enlargement of the Parliament. From the 1980s, however, it has become a tourist attraction as the charm of its medieval, Renaissance architecture and later additions have been valued by newer generations.

Probably one of the best sci-fi bookstore ads ever!

Tyska kyrkan (“German Church”). Located between the streets Tyska Brinken, Kindstugatan, Svartmangatan, and Prästgatan, it is named for standing in the centre of a neighbourhood that in the Middle Ages was dominated by Germans. Officially named Sankta Gertrud (St. Gertrude’s Church), the church is dedicated to Saint Gertrude (626-659), abbess of the Benedictine monastery of Nivelles in present-day Belgium and yet another patron saint of travelers.

Just can’t escape her!

Lovely portal

Mårten Trotzigs Gränd, less than a meter wide, is the narrowest alley in the city.

Still much wider than the narrowest streets in Amsterdam and in Prague… 😀

Skeppsbron (Swedish: “The Ship’s Bridge”) is both a street and a quay in Gamla stan, the old town of Stockholm, capital of Sweden, stretching from the bridge Strömbron in front of the Royal Palace southward to Slussen.

The red granite sculpture ‘Sea god’ (Sjöguden) by Carl Milles (1875–1955) found on the quay is from 1913 and depicts a monster with a broad smile pressing a bashful mermaid to his chest. The sculpture is the only of the artist’s many proposals for similar sculptures carried through.

Laivasilta 44 is an office building built in 1910 by director Carl Smith, designed by architect Fredrik Dahlberg.
The ground floor houses one of the city’s oldest restaurants, Zum Franziskaner that has been at the location since the 1840s in the house that was demolished in 1910 to make way for the newer building. Restaurant also preserves valuable art nouveau interiors .
The unique decoration over the main entrance, an angry man’s face and a stylized vulva, has been the subject of queer interest and even gave the house somewhat vulgar nicknames. The high pyramid roof is covered with glazed tiles and crowned by a globe of copper , which is supported by four dolphins.
The house stairwell contains historically valuable Venetian window and wall paintings by Georg Pauli . Laivasilta 44 has been given a blue classification of Stockholm City Museum which means that the property’s heritage value corresponds to the requirements for listed buildings in the Heritage Conservation Act .

A bit less historic but none the less entertaining – one of Stockholm’s club’s decorations 🙂

It sure felt it in the sun!

By the way, did you know that Sweden is SO green that in 2013 it ran out of garbage? Sweden is highly efficient in recycling and burns the rest of the garbage in highly efficient power-plants to produce electricity. Now it may well be possible that other European countries will pay it to take their trash, so it will basically be given a fuel source AND paid to take it :). How brilliant is that? More about it here.

What is it with Swedes and weird statues?

Way to the harbor…

Prepare to embark!

Take-off

God, our Father, on the Rainbow (1949 – 1995) – in case you couldn’t tell 😀 – by Carl Milles. He resided in the US for many years and proposed this fountain as a tribute to the UN In 1946, when the United Nations was newly founded and its headquarters was planned for Manhattan, New York. Four years later, a 10 ft. high model was presented to Tryggve Lie, the Secretary General, who was in favor of the project, under the condition that financing could be arranged. It was intended as a sculpture in the garden outside the headquarters, with the water from the sculpture cascading into the East River. The sculpture was conceived as a symbol of piece and a salute to the creation of the UN.
After several years of fruitless discussions and efforts to finance the project, and objections from NYC officials regarding the outlet of water into the East River, the project was finally cancelled in 1954 by Dag Hammarskjöld, the new Secretary General and a fellow Swede. It was a tremendous disappointment for Milles, who passed away a year later and was thus denied to see his project realized.

Almost 40 years later, an American sculptor and pupil of Milles, Marshall Fredericks, received the commission to build the sculpture in a newly created office park in Nacka Stand, a suburb of Stockholm, on the waterway into central Stockholm. Finished in 1995, this monumental sculpture stands 18 meters (60 ft.) high. It shows a naked God balancing at the end of an arch, hanging stars in the sky, tossed his way by an angel at the base of the sculpture.
Milles’ design was to have water cascading from the tip of the arch into the water/river, thus completing a semicircle. A silhouette effect, much used by Milles as a design feature, is achieved by placing God on a high arch against the sky. In addition, the cascading water is given a symbolic meaning for life and the Holy Spirit, a connection to Milles’ belief in the eternal life of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, like water, descends to the Earth and then ascends to the sky again in an eternal cycle.

Upcoming: dozens of pictures of the dozens of islets and things around and on them 🙂

Upcoming: a ridiculous number of sunset pictures taken from top deck… Bear with me!

Zeeeeeee!!!!
(The select few I have subjected to watching the entire “Charlie the Unicorn” selection up until the YoLo will appreciate the reference…)

The ‘Z’ was so obvious and the right-hand side sort of a ‘K’ shape was close enough, so it didn’t take me too long to find the entire “ZOUK” in that sunset! Can YOU? (hint: look for very small ‘o’ and ‘u’ letters 😀 ).

Final farewell to Stockholm and Sweden after a hectic day… Looking forward to Helsinki!

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Scandinavian Saga Part 2: Norway – Kjerag and the Scenery.

Early morning, on the way to Kjerag from Denmark (the travel story details can be found here).

“The restaurant at the end of the universe”… Almost 🙂
The restaurant at Øygardstøl south of the Lysefjord by the Lysevegen road above Lysebotn (and parking lot/WC area) is where the hike up the Kjerag begins. It’s fairly pricy and some of the dishes on the menu may not be available too early, but it’s a nice little spot for at least a coffee if not a snack – you’ll need that energy!

This demanding trail traverses several ridges, and climbs 570 metres (do you see the ‘little’ people below? The just started the ‘hike’ – which is truly much more of a climb – and we’re roughly 2/3 of the way up the first peak on the way.
To avoid wear and tear and accidents, please use the marked trail and hang on to the chains. Definitely wear solid, waterproof walking/hiking shoes/boots (make sure they aren’t slippery), warm clothes (more importantly, wind-proof and water-proof), and maybe gloves to help climbing. It is also a very good idea to bring some form of weather appropriate head-wear/ear-covers, as the winds on the top are so strong and fairly cold at any time of the year that you may end up with inflamed ears. Also a very good idea to bring along some food and definitely count on at least one 1,5L water bottle per person.
The path is 2,5-3 hours from Øygardstøl to Kjerag (one way), is very physically demanding and unsuitable for young kids, people with unstable health or with low levels of general fitness and endurance.

The autumn colors are almost other-worldly…

Photographer at work 🙂

Ways to go…
At 1084 metres, Kjerag towers above the other peaks along the Lysefjord. It has been traditional to admire this mountain face from the fjord, but in recent years, it has become increasingly popular to walk up the path to the plateau. Most people are happy just to enjoy the view of the Lysefjord from the plateau itself.

For some hikers, the climax of the excursion is to be photographed on the Kjeragbolten, a round rock about 5m tall wedged solidly in a mountain crevice 1,000 meters above the Lysefjord. Kjerag has also become a popular attraction for mountain climbers and base jumpers.
The path to climb over onto the Kjeragbolten is very narrow, and the winds can be strong and jolty. If you want to risk taking a picture on top of the rock, make sure you are very steady on your feet.
There is a piece of the chain to hang on to, but it’s by far not long enough to ensure a picture right on the very top of the rock. If you let go of the chain – it’s up to you to make sure you do not fall down (not to scare you but, sadly, you won’t be the first one…)

The fjord through the creek

A small, 715m high waterfall Kjeragfossen.

The highest point of the plateau is about 1110m asl.
In the nearly 1,000-foot north wall there are several free climbing routes and also “big walls”(for technical climbing). The cliff ranges from vertical to overhanging of good to excellent quality. Best time for climbing is July / August. The Stavanger climbing club (“BRV”) are the leaders in the industry.

My take on the “Scream”

Doing a small balancing act on the edge of the cliff in very strong wind is just THE way to go at Kjerag! 🙂

(I’m aware that many actual athletes pulled more impressive stunts than this, but this was about as far as our untrained for anything asses would risk it 😀 )

Acro-yoga FTW!

Some unknown to me girl also should have pictures of us jumping up and stuff, but I’m afraid if I wait for those I’d never publish this album 😀

My turn to be the base 😀

I promise next time if I make it up this freaking mountain I will actually stand properly on that rock… However, this particular day everyone was in such a damn hurry that we ran to the place and had to run back fairly quickly again. That chain to hold on to was pretty short, hence the pose :). I didn’t dare to let go of it because the wind was coming in powerful short bursts that could blow me off pretty easily. Since I got zero rest on the way and my legs were suspiciously unstable by the time we made it up here. I decided my life was a tad bit more precious than a picture… A better strategy would be to start the hike earlier, take it slow, then have a lunch on the top, relax, and then risk standing on top of the boulder – if the wind isn’t too strong (see video below for the wind 😀 ).

Long way to fall…

On the Kjerag mountain there is a certain place near the summit where a noise similar to a pistol shot may be heard, and is even accompanied by what appeares to be smoke. According to the older generation here, this is a natural phenomenon which occurs especially when the wind is in the east and blows with a certain force.The cause of this is uncertain but the village-folk in earlier times meant that it was water which was forced out of the rocks.

The visiting season is from June to September. It’s probably more likely to have a wet day in the fall, but the colors are well worth it!

The sheep are everywhere (and may appear all of a sudden on the road right in front of your car), so adhering to speed limits is a very good idea.

Sound advice!

The main building (reception and restaurant) of the hotel we stayed at.

Our little cabin in the woods 🙂

Many roofs in the region are covered by grass

The morning after…

The scenery in Norway was absolutely breathtaking all through the way…

Unplanned stop for a photo session

Semi-dead people in the sun 😀

Won’t wait for the results of my creative attempts with someone else’s camera either – I don’t think the idea quite worked out anyway 😀

“Anyone knows da heck is she doing with my camera?”

There was one river that stretched for hours, coming in and out of view and occasionally breaking into huge lakes…

This spot was so picture-pretty we actually stopped the car for a pretty long photo-session 🙂

Other type of wheels 🙂

No need to burn the bridge, but need to be moving on – Sweden and Finland await!

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Scandinavian Saga Part 1: Copenhagen.

The one day well spent in Copenhagen was warm, bright and sunny (the story of the trip itself can be found here). The first ‘point of interest’ was on my way to the free tour – first of the statues at the sight of a planned collection of such.

Here is the plan for that place in detail 🙂

Random trivia facts about Denmark:
1. Denmark is the homeland of the Germanic ethnicity and culture. The Franks, Burgundians, Jutes, and the Norses (Vikings) all trace their origin back to Denmark (as well as Norway and Sweden for the latter).
2. In the 9th and 10th centuries, Danish Vikings invaded and settled in parts of Western Europe as far as North Africa. They founded the Danelaw in Northern England, and were granted to Duchy of Normandy (named after the Norse men) by the King of France.
3. As a result of the “Danish exodus” in ancient and medieval times, most people in Germany, the Benelux, Northern and Eastern France, and Britain can claim Danish ancestry.
4. The Danish royal family is probably the oldest uninterrupted European monarchy. It traces back its roots to legendary kings in the Antiquity. Gorm the Old, the first king of the “official line”, ruled from 934 C.E.
5. Between 1397 and 1524, the whole of Scandinavia (Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland) as well as southern Finland was unified under Danish rule, with Copenhagen as capital. The Denmark-Norway Union (including Iceland and Greenland) lasted until 1814.
6. There are 443 named islands in Denmark, 76 of which are inhabited.
7. The flag of Denmark, Dannebrog, is the oldest state flag in the world still in use by an independent nation. It was adopted in 1219.
8. The country’s average height above sea level is only 31 meters and the highest natural point is Møllehøj, at 170.86 meters.
9. The Danish prince Hamlet, the fictional character of William Shakespeare’s famous play, was inspired by an old Danish myth of the Viking Prince Amled of Jutland.

Copenhagen is one of the world’s greenest cities. The vast majority of citizens are obsessed with recycling, all things organic, cycle all year round or use electric public transport. 64% of the city’s hotel rooms are certified as eco-friendly and three-quarters of the food served in public institutions is organic. Copenhagen will be the 2014 European Green Capital – the title awarded to the cities with consistently high environmental standards. By 2025, Copenhagen plans to be the world’s first carbon-neutral capital.

The City Hall square is located at the site of the old city hay market and its Western City Gate. When the fortifications were disbanded in the 1850s, it was decided to use the vacant land for an exhibition area which played host to first the Nordic Exhibition of 1872 and later the Nordic Exhibition of 1888. Vilhelm Klein designed a building for the first exhibition in red brick, inspired by Italian Renaissance architecture, at the corner of Vesterbro Passage. In the 1880’s it was decided to build a new city hall building at the site and a competition was held for the best design. Nyrop won the competition, while Vilhelm Dahlerup and Valdemar Koch were among the participating architects. On 28 July 1894, the foundation stone was laid and the new building was inaugurated in 1905.

Copenhagen (in Danish – København) was founded in the 10th century as a Viking fishing village – many historians believe it was possibly done by Sweyn I Forkbeard. The town was originally called Køpmannæhafn, meaning “merchants’ harbor”, or “Chapman’s haven” in English equivalent. The city gave name to the element hafnium and the bacterium Hafnia, the latter coined in 1954 by Vagn Møller of the State Serum Institute in Copenhagen. Copenhagen grew in importance since, partly due to an excellent harbor and great fishing facilities, until it became the capital of Denmark in the beginning of the 15th century. During the 17th century, under the reign of Christian IV, it became a significant regional center, nowadays referred to as the capital of Scandinavia. Since the turn of the millennium, Copenhagen has seen strong urban and cultural development, partly due to large investments in cultural facilities and infrastructure.

Behind the Dragon and the Bull fountain you can see one of the entertainment centers of Copenhagen, and the famous Tivoli – the world’s oldest amusement park – is just a stone’s throw away to the left. Open from April 10 till September 21st, then again on Halloween and for Christmas, Tivoli is an open-air space hosting countless events, exhibitions, open-air performances, places to eat and activity choices. Entrance is 95 DKK, unless you’re up to 8 years old – then it’s free :).
If that’s not enough fun for you, you can also visit Dyrehavsbakken – the world’s oldest operating amusement park located 10 km north of Copenhagen. Its origins can be traced back to the late 16th century, when entertainers and artists working in this spring park attracted crowds from all over Europe. Cabarets made their appearance in 1866, and the first wooden roller coaster opened in 1932. Other modern attractions followed, and the park now features six high-speed roller coasters and over 30 other rides.
For free entertainment one can stroll along Strøget, especially between Nytorv and Højbro Plads, which in the late afternoon and evening is a bit like an impromptu three-ring circus with musicians, magicians, jugglers and other street performers.
If parks and street entertainment aren’t exactly your thing, do not despair: Copenhagen has one of the highest number of restaurants and bars per capita in the world. The nightclubs stay open until 5 or 6 in the morning, some even longer. Denmark has a very liberal alcohol culture and a strong tradition for beer breweries, however binge drinking is frowned upon and the Danish Police takes driving under the influence very seriously.
The city also has several recurring community festivals, mainly in the summer. Copenhagen Carnival takes place every year since 1982 during the Whitsun Holiday in Fælledparken and around the city. 120 bands, 2000 dancers and 100,000 spectators participate.
Copenhagen Pride is a gay pride festival taking place every year in August. Among the events is “Tivoli goes pink” and it ends with a parade.
Copenhagen Distortion is a youth culture festival capturing the zeitgeist of the city, gathering every year (5 days up to the first weekend of June) up to 100,000 people in the streets, in shops, galleries, clubs, bars, in boats and buses, with a cultural focus on street culture, art and avant-guard dance music.

The large polar bears symbolize Greenland, which is still officially a protectorate of Denmark.

Statue of Bishop Absalon. By the 11th century, Copenhagen had already grown into a small town with a large estate, a church, a market, at least two wells and many smaller habitations spread over a fairly wide area. However, Copenhagen’s founding has traditionally been dated to Bishop Absalon’s construction of a castle on the small island of Slotsholmen in 1167 where Christiansborg Palace stands today.

The “Lurblæserne”: two bronze Lure Blowers standing on their Column at the east side of the Town Hall (Rådhus), blowing an ancient type of trumpet called a Lure. The Column was first set up in 1909 – with only one Lure Blower – when the national exhibition in Copenhagen opened. The statue with two of them was erected in 1914 and given to the city in 1911 by The New Carlsberg Foundation in connection with the centenary of the brewer and founder J.C. Jacobsen’s birthday (1811-1987). They are so cozily squeezed together that they are commonly referred to as “stacked up flour bags.” The common myth is that the blowers will blow their horns if a virgin passes by the monument, but it may be difficult to test in this day and age :D.
Bronze lures – usually used in pair during religious ceremonies – date back to the Nordic Bronze Age (1800 BC). They are S-shaped conical tubes, 1.60 m – 2.40 m long, without any finger holes, with an embossed metal disk at the end. They sound a bit like a trombone and a good lure player can manage 10-15 notes. 37 Bronze Lures were found in Denmark, some of them displayed at the National Museum. The last 6 found at “Brudevælte” in North Zealand in 1797 date back approximately to 800 – 700 BC and are in such fine condition that they are among the oldest instruments in the world that still can be played today. The last Lure was given as a gift by King Frederik VII in 1845 to the Russian Czar Nikolaj I and can be seen at The Hermitage in St. Petersburg

The court house is, conveniently, connected by passages to the prison – you could get into your cell after receiving the sentence in a very short time 🙂

A modern style court of justice, Hof- og Stadsretten, was introduced by Johann Friedrich Struensee in 1771. The two High Courts were introduced as courts of appeal in 1805 and a new court house was needed for this emerging legal system. Copenhagen’s City Hall was lost in the Great Fires of both 1728 and 1795 and it was finally decided to build a combined city hall and courthouse at a site previously occupied by the Royal Orphanage built in 1728. Christian Frederik Hansen, the leading Danish architect of the time, was charged with the commission. Construction started in 1803 but was delayed by scarcity of building materials as well as the British bombardment of the city in 1807 in the Battle of Copenhagen. Materials from the demolition of Hirschholm Palace were used for the building, which was finally completed in 1816. The building, ornamented by six large Ionic Columns and masonry, served its dual purpose for almost one hundred years, until the current Copenhagen City Hall was inaugurated, and exclusively as the District Court of Copenhagen ever since.

Both the facades of the courthouse and the jail feature inscriptions. The inscription above the entrance of the courthouse, “Med lov skal man land bygge”, means “With law shall the land [i.e. the nation] be built”), is a quotation from the preamble of Codex Holmiensis, while the inscription on the jail reads ” For almeen sikkerheden” – “For the public security”).

Right in front of the Court House, here these youngsters are currently chilling out, is the spot where public executions have been taking place. Often the victims of executions were mothers who have killed their babies because they were too poor to take care of them at the time.

One of the Neoclassical buildings at Nytorv

Beer lovers, lo and behold: this rather unimpressive building is where the Carlsberg empire (with its own cool history about the rivalry between the son and the father over the science of beer-making) had begun!
(While we’re at the topic: Tuborg is also a Danish brand)

Opposite from the Carlsberg birthplace is one of the lovely old streets where affluent people used to live back in the days when sanitation was handled slightly differently than today. Can you believe it was somebody’s job to collect waste buckets from all these houses and dispose of the waste in them? Well, it was. However, as Danes are notoriously very community-oriented and helping people, they were trying to think of ways to make the jobs of those poor lads at least a little bit less shitty (pun definitely intended). One such attempt was the agreement to put a shot of schnapps near the entrance to keep the bucket collectors happy…

The schnapps idea, however, didn’t go down too well… As you can see, there are quite a few houses on that short street, so it was not too long before everything got out of hand for the consumer of so much alcohol, things got spilled rather easily and the idea was abandoned :). All hail the modern sewage system!

Street art

Strange street art…

Do you also know that ‘trivia piece’ about the position of the horse’s legs having something to do with how the person riding it died? Yeah? Well… Complete urban legend with no basis in reality. Horse’s legs arrangements had to do entirely with the ideas of the artist or the person commissioning the monument and nothing with the manner by which anyone had died.

And we’re back with Bishop Absalon.
Copenhagen is located at the most important approach to the Baltic Sea and the rich North German trading towns of the Hanseatic League, providing it with power and wealth but also threatening its very existence, since the town was besieged and laid waste by the Hanseatic League over and over again.
Whereas other cities in the Danish realm were under the governance of the king, in around 1160 Copenhagen was given by Valdemar I to Absalon, Bishop of Roskilde as its lord and master. The city was fortified with a stone wall and Bishop Absalon was a notoriously fierce and terrifying defender of his territory. He pulled of such stunts as beheading the invaders’ armies and sending them back the severed heads as ‘souvenirs’ (and friendly reminders not to fuck with the Danes).

Absalon is revered as one of the key figures in the history of Copenhagen and Denmark. The town grew tenfold in size under his reign. Churches and abbeys were founded. Copenhagen’s economy blossomed as a result of the hugely prosperous herring fishery trade, which provided large parts of Roman Catholic Europe with salted herring for Lent.
From about 1290 until the middle of the 19th century all traffic entering and leaving Copenhagen had to pass through one of Copenhagen’s four city gates or the harbor.
In 1416 Eric of Pomerania took over control of the town and Copenhagen came back under the rule of the Danish Crown.

Listening to the stories of beheaded invaders 🙂

By the time of Christian IV’s coronation in 1596, Copenhagen had become rich and powerful. The new king decided to make the town the economic, military, religious, and cultural centre for the whole of the Nordic region. The king established the first trading companies with sole rights to trade with lands overseas. In order to restrict imports, factories were set up so that as many goods as possible could be manufactured at home.

The building of the former Stock Exchange house is currently for sale, in case you’re looking for a small crib in the region… 😉

The spire features four dragons with intertwined tails

Not all the times were bright for Copenhagen. In July 1700, Copenhagen underwent a bombardment from a British-Dutch-Swedish navy but did not suffer much damage. From June 1711 to March 1712, it was haunted by the plague which killed about a third of the population. About a third of the city (the entire northern part), 1,600 houses and five churches burned down in the course of four days during the fire of 1728 – allegedly started by a restaurant owner’s little kid who knocked off a candle… Ops!
Danes, however, stood together through the hard times and were able to bounce back with gusto. In 1731–32 Christian VI tore the old Copenhagen Castle down to replace it with Christiansborg Palace, and during the reign of Frederick V Frederiksstaden, the most distinguished district of Copenhagen, with Amalienborg Palace at its center, was developed.
Near the end of the 18th century, Copenhagen’s trade and the wealth that followed reached its so far highest level. Although the fire of 1795 destroyed about a quarter of the city and rendered 3,500 homeless, the damage was relatively quickly repaired and most of the city was rebuilt again by the turn of the 19th century.

We’re doing the “Hygge” during our tour’s lunch-break stop :). This Danish word (pronounced “hooga”) loosely translates as “coziness”. It is the warm and fuzzy, sociable feeling that comes from sharing pleasant, friendly times with friends. For Danes, it is one of the highest states to which humans can aspire.
Looks like they know what they are doing! According to the UN’s 2013 World Happiness Report, Denmark, with a score of 7.6, beats every other country on a global happiness scale from zero to 10.

On 2 April 1801 a British fleet under the command of Admiral Sir Hyde Parker fought and defeated a Danish-Norwegian fleet anchored just off Copenhagen. Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson led the main attack. He famously disobeyed Parker’s order to withdraw when he “put the telescope to the blind eye” in order not to see Admiral Parker’s signal to cease fire, destroying many of the Dano-Norwegian ships before a truce was agreed. Copenhagen is often considered to be Nelson’s hardest fought battle, surpassing even the heavy fighting at Trafalgar.

The Second Battle of Copenhagen (or the Bombardment of Copenhagen) (16 August – 5 September 1807) was a British preemptive attack, targeting the civilian population in order to seize the Dano-Norwegian fleet. The British landed 30,000 men and surrounded the city, continuing the attack for the next three days, during which at least 2,000 civilians were killed and most of the city was, yet again, destroyed. The devastation was so great because Copenhagen relied on an old defense-line rendered virtually useless by the increase in shooting range available to the British.

While the previous 25 years had been a heyday for Copenhagen, the next 25 years became a period of poverty. Surprisingly, science, literature and art blossomed. Following the July Revolution of 1830 the Danish liberal and national movement gained momentum, and after the European Revolutions of 1848 Denmark became a constitutional monarchy on June 5, 1849. On January 1, 1840, the city was given a new municipal constitution which was expanded on March 4, 1857.
Roughly at the same time, mainly due to The Second War of Schleswig in 1864 (where Denmark lost a third of its area), the old ramparts were replaced by the Fortification of Copenhagen and opened to allow new housing to be built around the lakes (“Søerne”). This dramatic increase in space was long overdue,mainly because of bad sanitation in the old city where, since the reign of Christian IV, despite a fourfold increase in the population, the buildings had become taller and the amount of space available to residents had decreased.

Niels Juel – brother of the diplomat Jens Juel – was a Dano–Norwegian admiral. He was the noblest and most amiable of men, equally beloved and respected by his sailors, simple, straightforward and unpretentious in all his ways. During his latter years he was popularly known in Copenhagen as the “good old knight”.
Despite the warm and loving nickname, he was a great accomplisher. He began his career by serving his naval apprenticeship under Maarten Tromp and Michiel de Ruyter, taking part in all the chief engagements of the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652–54), acquiring a thorough knowledge of shipbuilding during a long indisposition at Amsterdam in 1655-1656. Once back in Denmark, he served with distinction during the Dano-Swedish Wars of 1658-60 and took a prominent part in the defense of Copenhagen against Charles X of Sweden.
During fifteen years of peace, Juel, as admiral of the fleet, labored assiduously to develop and improve the Royal Dano-Norwegian Navy. He then won a European reputation, and raised Danish sea-power to unprecedented eminence, by the system of naval tactics, perfected by Michiel de Ruyter in the Third Anglo-Dutch War and afterwards by Horatio Nelson, which consists in cutting off a part of the enemy’s force and concentrating the whole attack on it.
Juel took a leading part in Cornelis Tromp’s great victory off Battle of Öland (1 June 1676), which enabled the Danes to invade Scania unopposed. On 1 June 1677 Juel defeated the Swedish admiral Erik Carlsson Sjöblad in the Battle of Møn. On the 30th of June 1677 he won his greatest victory, in the Battle of Køge Bay. This victory, besides permanently crippling the Swedish navy, gave the Danes the self-confidence to become less dependent on their Dutch allies.
After the Treaty of Lund Juel showed himself an administrator and reformer of the first order, and under his energetic supervision the Danish navy ultimately reached imposing dimensions, especially after Juel became chief of the admiralty in 1683.

Hotel d’Angleterre – one of the first deluxe hotels in the world. It is located on Kongens Nytorv opposite Charlottenborg, the Royal Theater and Nyhavn. While its history dates back to 1755, it has been in its current building since a fire in 1795 damaged the previous building beyond repair. Between 1872 and 1875, the building was significantly extended and refurbished by architects Vilhelm Dahlerup and Georg E.W. Møller. It was here that the first draft for Denmark’s constitution was presented, thereby ending the king’s absolute power in Danish affairs.
The Hotel d’Angleterre re-opened in May 2013 following extensive restorations. The new d’Angleterre has 30 rooms and 60 suites. It also has a restaurant “Marchal”, led by executive chef Ronny Emborg, a cocktail and champagne bar as well as a spa and health club.
Among those who stayed in this hotel are (in alphabetical order by last name):
AC/DC, H.C. Andersen, Morten Andersen, Cecilia Bartoli, David & Victoria Beckham, Karen Blixen, Bono, Victor Borge, Mariah Carey, José Carreras, Helena Christensen, Winston Churchill, John Cleese, Bill Clinton, Cameron Diaz, Walt Disney, Barbara Hendricks, Alfred Hitchcock, Whitney Houston, Henrik Ibsen, Julio Iglesias, Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, Jon Bon Jovi, Juan Carlos I of Spain, Grace Kelly, Diana Krall, Madonna, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Brigitte Nielsen, Connie Nielsen, Ozzy Osbourne, David Rockefeller, Rolling Stones, Claudia Schiffer, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Justin Timberlake, U2, Lars Ulrich, Robbie Williams, Oprah Winfrey and Angus Young.

According to the history section of the hotel’s website, “the d’Angleterre is the result of a love affair between two young people. In the middle of the 1700’s Jean Marchal, a servant in the royal court, and Maria Coppy, daughter to the royal chef, fell in love. Maria was known for her cooking talent and Jean knew everything about serving the privileged. Together Mr. and Mrs. Marchal established a restaurant on Kongens Nytorv in 1755 [“The Strong Man’s Garden”]. This is where the d’Angleterre story begins.
The founder, Jean Marchal and his successors’ talent and sense for providing exceptional service, hospitality and comfort has carried the identity of the d’Angleterre throughout more than 250 years. This tradition is the foundation of the d’Angleterre legacy.”

The Royal Danish Theatre (Danish: Det Kongelige Teater) is both the national Danish performing arts institution and a name used to refer to its old purpose-built venue from 1874 located on Kongens Nytorv. The theater was founded in 1748, first serving as the theater of the king, and then as the theater of the country. It presents opera, the Royal Danish Ballet, classical music concerts (by the Royal Danish Orchestra, which dates back to 1448), and drama in several locations.

However, the hotel also hosted other types of guests: it was selected as Germany’s military headquarters during the Nazi occupation of Denmark.
And this is where one absolutely epic Danish guy comes into the story: Thomas Sneum.
Born on 21 May 1917 (died on 3 February 2007 in Roskilde ), he was a Danish flight officer who was among the first English agents in Denmark during World War II. Sneum was lieutenant in the Naval Air Service, but resigned on 14 April 1940 to come to England. He planned to flee to Sweden with a cutter, but failed. He then went home to his parents in Fano. But this isn’t even remotely the whole pie of awesome of this guy…

In a way, his personal history is one of one epic failure after another, with a few equally epic stories in between. For instance…
Remember how the hotel was used as the German officers’ headquarters? Right. Across the street from the hotel resided Oda Pasborg – a beautiful blonde who featured in the Danish film “A Perfect Gentleman” – she got an apartment from her father right in this portion of the building that you can see on the picture.
Thomas, in the meantime, was planning to assassinate a very high-ranking German official who, he had learned from a few sources, was due to visit Copenhagen in a few months’ time…
Oda Pasborg comes into the picture because Thomas was quite a womanizer and she was his old girlfriend (according to one version of the story, he deliberately seduced her once he had heard of the high-ranking German official’s visit). And she had given him a key to the apartment… with a perfect vantage point over the hotel’s main entrance!
It was an ideal plan, but he did not want to compromise Oda. His solution to the dilemma was to use a steel bow that was both silent and quickly disassembled. Sneum had shot with a bow as a kid, so he bought a new steel bow at a hunting store and practiced in Tivoli and Fano. He had written the expected Himmler’s arrival date on the arrows: 9 April 1940.
Sneum had two informants: gossip-providing Niels-Richard Bertelsen, and a former colleague from the naval air force Arne Helvard who worked at Heathrow airport and to reported on German officers’ movements. On February 6 Bertelsen called Sneum and told that one of Hitler’s leading men was bound to arrive. Luckily, Oda was not answering Sneum’s calls and, most likely, was not at home. Sneum let himself into the apartment and began to wait, and wait, and wait…
But nothing happened. Later, Bertelsen called again and told that there had been a change in the plan: the official, who had been sick on the way from an inspection of the SS troops in Norway, cancelled his visit to Copenhagen and flew straight home to Germany…
The absolute magnitude of this incident can only be appreciated when you learn that the German official in question was no other than… Heinrich Himmler! Imagine how different the history of WWII might have been had he not fallen sick that time!

Obviously, after a few months of preparation and such a let-down, Thomas Sneum was less than happy. He REEEEEEEEALLY wanted to make a difference in the war and to fight the evil Germans. When going to Sweden didn’t quite work out and he had to return to Fano, he just so happened to stumble upon a goldmine…
Just nearby, Germans set up some “metal frames”. Sneum’s most spectacular achievement was when in 1941 he photographed those “frames”, which he managed to do because he obtained express permission from the German local kommendant to hunt rabbits in the area and used that ‘cover’ to carry a photo camera around under his ‘hunting gear’.
He showed the pictures to Danish officials, who failed to see anything significant about them. Thomas was rather upset at such indifference, so figured he needed to get back to England to be closer to action and to more intelligent people. There was one small issue though: there were no available civil flights…
Well hell, he wasn’t the type of a guy to give up easily, so he searched for anyone who had any sort of an aircraft in private possession. Of the 23 possible options he discovered, he chose a DH.87B Hornet Moth, standing at Pal Andersen Else Memorial at Sanderumgaard nearby Odense. He had been told that Pal was ‘good enough’ – that is, national-minded. Thomas expressed the desire to buy the plane, to which Pal Andersen replied: “You can not. But the plane is in that westward barn over there…”
Thomas took the hint and, as Pal turned around and left, immediately proceeded to the barn, got the plane out and set off to the UK in the evening of June 21 with his colleague Kjeld Petersen.
Sounds good, heh? Not so fast! You see, the plane had a small tank and could only make it two-thirds of the way across the North Sea… They carried small 5- and 10-liter cans of additional fuel, except the plane had nowhere to land on the sea. Thus, in an ultimate feat of bad-assery, Sneum stepped out onto the plane’s wing during the actual flight and inserted a hose into the fuel tank, so that they could refuel from the cockpit. If that alone wasn’t whacko enough, Kjeld Petersen spilled fuel inside the cockpit… This may not sound like too much of a big deal, but petrol vapors were effectively anesthetizing them during the flight, making it all the more dangerous.
After landing in England, they were greeted by four RAF officers who had difficulty understanding how they could have flown over from Denmark in the rotten box. Luckily, their explanation was quickly confirmed – in particular by contacting Sneum’s British contact officer in Stockholm. Unlike the Danes, the British took a closer look at the photographs and realized their importance, first recognized by the Head of the English scientific intelligence organization, RV Jones and his colleague Charles Frank who interrogated Sneum. The German “metal frames” proved to be radar stations of the Freya type!
Unfortunately, the British intelligence agency MI 5 in a not-so-intelligent manner commissioned the films to be produce by a local photo retailer, which had almost destroyed all the negatives. Footage brought by Sneum was very important evidence about the Germans’ activities. It was the British first actual pictures of the German radar.

Still engrossed in the story (as we were)? It goes on 🙂
As a way of expressing grand gratitude, Sneum was sent right back to Denmark away from trouble by the British SIS. He landed in September 1941 along with another Dane. He set up a spying network by acquiring a better model of a radio, tapping into Germans’ communication and sending that info over to the Brits and seemed content with that for a while… But not for long! Thomas was resolved to be on the front lines of the events!
On 26 March 1942 Sneum fled to Sweden by (ready for this?) walking across the whole damn way on thin ice! Having lost two companions, Thomas and his buddy Helvard were ‘warmly welcomed’ by the Swedes into immediate imprisonment… Although they later managed to convince the local authorities to be freed.
As if one ‘deportation’ was not enough, Sneum went on to (you’d NEVER guess…) England, where he was (you’d ABSOLUTELY NEVER GUESS!!!) imprisoned yet again because the British Intelligence believed that he was a German double agent. He used influential persons to finally be released, but never got to fly for the RAF. Instead they paid him approximately 3000 pounds. He was also given the opportunity to fly for the Norwegian Airforce.
After the liberation Sneum returned back to Denmark and was (seriously, there’s seriously nooooo way of guessing this time…) immediately taken into interrogation by the National Police and army intelligence services. According to Sneum, they said that he had collaborated with the Germans, for they have said that it was impossible for Danish officers to come to England. So they were supposed to want him to be German friendly. And everything was supposed to be kept hush-hush, otherwise people began all that talk about why the others had not done the same. Basically, it should preferably be kept completely secret that there was someone who had come to England.
Sneum was released and offered to resume his old position as Danish Flight Lieutenant. As in English service he had achieved the rank of colonel, the offer was an exquisite insult to a man who had fought so hard. Sneum left defense. He was then to build the Falck Flying Corps before he traveled to Switzerland.
Unlike Sneum’s countrymen, RV Jones never forgot Sneum. Many years later he wrote in his memoir Most Secret War:
“One might have imagined that after all this Sneum would deservedly become a national hero. But maybe this is why he got the cold shoulder from those who after the war had power in Denmark.”
The incredible story of Thomas Sneum was finally given justice only recently. Ken Follett’s novel London Calling was inspired by it. In addition, Mark Ryan was so drawn by this amazing man’s personal history that he conducted hours upon hours of interviews with Sneum and, finally, in 2008 published a book The Hornet’s Sting: The amazing untold story of the Second World War spy Thomas Sneum.

Completely unrelated to the epic man: something probably related to some sort of ‘green energy’ or ‘green fuel’ 🙂

King Christian X ruled Denmark during the turbulent years of the German occupation.
Initially, he was not the most popular guy on the block, considered too authoritarian and focused on the royal dignity and power, in spite of the growing importance of democracy. This attitude resulted in the Easter Crisis of 1920, in which he dismissed the democratically elected cabinet with which he disagreed, and instated one of his own choosing. Nominally, this was his constitutional right, but facing the risk of the monarchy being overthrown he was forced to accept democratic control of the state and the role as a nominal constitutional monarch.
In spite of his initial unpopular stance, during the German Occupation of Denmark he grew to be a popular symbol of resistance. This was particularly because of the symbolic value of the fact that he rode daily through the streets of Copenhagen unaccompanied by guards.
He also became the subject of a persistent urban legend according to which, during Nazi occupation, he donned the Star of David in solidarity with the Danish Jews. This is not true, as Danish Jews were not forced to wear any insignia. However, the legend likely stems from a 1942 British report that claimed he threatened to don the star if this was forced upon Danish Jews.
In addition, when the threats grew more imminent, he helped finance the transport of Danish Jews to unoccupied Sweden, where they were safe from Nazi persecution. Thus, with a reign spanning two world wars, and his role as a rallying symbol for Danish national sentiment during the WWII, he has become one of the most popular Danish monarchs of modern times.
In August 1943, when the government’s collaboration with the German occupation forces collapsed, several ships were sunk by the Royal Danish Navy in Copenhagen Harbor to prevent them being used by the Germans. On 8 May 1945 Copenhagen was officially liberated by British airborne troops who supervised the surrender of 250,000 German armed forces across Denmark of which near on 30,000 were stationed around the capital.

The Port of Copenhagen is one of the largest ports in Scandinavia. The harbor itself is actually a man-made canal built by soldiers between 1671 and 1673 so ships could access Kongens Nytorv. Back in them days it served as a key industrial, trading and strategic port, although the importance of these uses has waned over time.
In 2001, Copenhagen Harbor merged with the harbor in Malmö to create multi-functional Copenhagen-Malmö Port. Its most important function is that of a major cruise destination. The number of cruise ships visiting or starting/ending cruises at Copenhagen, as well as the number of transported passengers keep steadily growing. As a result, the cruise industry facilities are being expanded and improved.
At the World Travel Awards in 2008, Copenhagen Port was named the number one cruise destination in Europe for the fifth year in a row.

Nowadays the port is a lively, colorful tourist destination, but it wasn’t always the case. Originally, it was a regular busy port of questionable hygienic standards and most of the houses offered services high in demand among the sailors – namely, ladies for the night.
The area remained a de-facto red light district for a long time. At one point, the government decided it was no longer a good greeting card for the arriving visitors to see and decided to prompt the ladies to move their industries elsewhere.

The original plan (whoever was the genius behind it) was to paint the houses into lively colors. As you can see, the plan was executed. Miraculously, however, the ladies didn’t pack up their things and leave – they stayed. Now they just had prettier houses…
Eventually, the government managed to transform the port by creating cultural hubs and other much more family-friendly spaces and buildings around the port and, slowly, the area indeed has transformed into the busy tourist and family hang-out, while the red light district has moved elsewhere.

People enjoying the sunny warm weather…
What you see in the background is the The Copenhagen Opera House (Operaen) – one of the most modern opera houses in the world. It is also one of the most expensive ever built with construction costs well over 500 million U.S. dollars.
Techically, it was donated to the Danish state by the A.P. Møller and Chastine Mc-Kinney Møller Foundation in August 2000. Some politicians were, however, unhappy about it, in part because the full cost of the project would be tax deductible, thus virtually forcing the government to buy the building. Nevertheless, it got a green light.
The Opera House was designed by the architect Henning Larsen, engineers Ramboll and Buro Happold and Theatre Consultant Theatreplan. The acoustics were designed by Arup Acoustics and architectural lighting by Speirs and Major Associates. However, Møller maintained the final say in the design of the building, among other things adding steel to the glass front – a feature aimed to shelter the glass front from aging and weathering that earned the Opera a local nickname of the “barbecue grill”.
It was opened on January 15, 2005 in the presence of Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and Queen Margrethe II, who also attended when the tenor Plácido Domingo made a gala guest appearance as Sigmund in Wagner’s Die Walküre on April 7, 2006.

Love was definitely in the air for those two… 🙂

Apparently a minor symbol of national shame – this is the ship that accidentally fired inland during some training navy exercised and caused a bit of a havoc – proudly displayed next door to the Opera.

Back to the Opera… It seems that the amount of money that has gone into that thing was worth it: it is one of the best-equipped opera houses in the world.
There are only between 1492 and 1703 seats, depending on the size of the orchestra, because a larger number of seats would hamper the quality of sound. If the orchestra is small or absent, the pit can be covered and more seats can be set. The 1492 seats are all individually angled in order to provide the best experience.
The orchestra pit is one of the largest in any opera house, with room for 110 musicians. The building provides excellent sound quality in the pit and the auditorium.
Just like in the old Royal Danish Theatre, the Queen has her own balcony on the left side of the auditorium, closest to the stage. Apparently, she preferred this arrangement rather than the more conventional central placement because she loves to be close to the stage to see the artists preparing behind the sidewalls before entering the stage.
The foyer has been designed for comfort, based on nothing less than actual behavioral research on opera goers, maximizing the wall area for standing against, while still providing views across the entire foyer and one of the best views on Copenhagen.
Guided tours cover most of the building, including both the auditorium and backstage areas.
Besides the main stage, the building also includes a small stage for experimental theater, a so-called “black box” theater named after the original Takkelloftet – a building just south of the Opera built between 1767 and 1772 for storing ropes for the navy. Thus the Opera maintains a connection to the marine history of its location.
The Opera has 6 main stages: 1 visible for the audience, and 5 for rehearsals and set preparation. It has almost everything needed for opera, ballet etc., including stage elevators, movable ballet floors and so on. The building totals 41,000 m² and contains more than 1000 rooms on 14 floors.
Unlike at the old opera in Copenhagen, the artists are allowed to take the elevator from their dressing room to the stage, because the reliability is very good. Unfortunately, it takes more time to get to the stage than previously, which makes it impossible to get back to the dressing room for a quick change of clothes. This was forgotten during the initial design, but the scene technicians have constructed temporary dressing rooms near the main stage for quick changes of clothes or makeup.

Some parts of the city are under extensive construction

You either havet, or you don’t 🙂

If you know what these columns are about – tell me!

Dive in for the pot o’gold!!!

The equestrian statue of King Frederik V on Frederiksgade (Frederik’s Street) was commissioned by Moltke and made by French sculptor Jacques-Francois-Joseph Saly. The foundation stone was laid in place in 1760 at the 100 year celebration of political absolutism in Denmark. The statue was finally unveiled in 1771, five years after King Frederik V’s death.
Just opposite the main castle Amalienborg, built in alignment with The Marble Church, is the Opera house with a great view over the castle.

Frederik’s Church (Danish: Frederiks Kirke), aka The Marble Church (Marmorkirken) – an Evangelical Lutheran church.
Probably inspired by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, it was designed by the architect Nicolai Eigtved in 1740 and was, along with the rest of Frederiksstaden district, intended to commemorate the 300 years jubilee of the first coronation of a member of the House of Oldenburg.
Frederick’s Church has the largest church dome in Scandinavia with a span of 31m, though there are three larger domes elsewhere in Europe. The dome rests on 12 columns.
The foundation stone was set by king Frederick V on October 31, 1749, but the construction was slowed by budget cuts and the death of Eigtved in 1754. In 1770, the original plans for the church were abandoned by Johann Friedrich Struensee. The church was left incomplete and, in spite of several initiatives, stood as a ruin for nearly 150 years.
In 1874, Andreas Frederik Krieger, Denmark’s Finance Minister at the time, sold the ruins of the uncompleted church and the church square to Carl Frederik Tietgen for 100,000 Rigsdaler — none of which was to be paid in cash — on the condition that Tietgen would build a church in a style similar to the original plans and donate it to the state when complete, while in turn he acquired the rights to subdivide neighboring plots for development.
The deal was at the time highly controversial. On 25 January 1877, a case was brought by the Folketing at the Court of Impeachment, Krieger being charged with corruption over this deal. He was, however, eventually acquitted.
Tietgen got Ferdinand Meldahl to design the church in its final form and financed its construction. Due to financial restrictions, the original plans for the church to be built almost entirely from marble were discarded, and instead Meldahl opted for limestone. The church was finally opened to the public on August 19, 1894.
Inscribed in gold lettering on the entablature of the front portico are the words “HERRENS ORD BLIVER EVINDELIG” – Danish for “the word of the Lord endureth for ever”

The Frederiksstaden district was built on the former grounds of two other palaces. The first – called Sophie Amalienborg – was built by Queen Sophie Amalie, consort to Frederick III, in the early 17th century. Other parts of the land were used for Rosenborg Castle, Nyboder, and the new Eastern fortified wall around the old city.
On 15 April 1689 King Christian V, Sophie Amalie’s son, celebrated his forty-fourth birthday at the palace with a performance in a specially built temporary theater that was a great success and was repeated on 19 April. However, immediately after the start, a stage decoration caught fire and both the theater and the palace burned to the ground, killing many people.
The King planned to rebuild the palace whose church, Royal Household and garden buildings were still intact. Ole Rømer headed the preparatory work. In 1694 the King negotiated a deal with the Swedish building master Nicodemus Tessin the Younger, who completed his drawing and model in 1697. The King, however, found the plans too ambitious, and instead began tearing down the existing buildings that same year, with the reclaimed building materials used to build a new Garrison Church.
The second Amalienborg was built by Frederick IV at the beginning of his reign to commemorate in 1748 the tercentenary of the Oldenburg family’s ascent to the throne of Denmark, and in 1749 the tercentenary of the coronation of Christian I of Denmark. This development is generally thought to have been the brainchild of Danish Ambassador Plenipotentiary in Paris Johann Hartwig Ernst Bernstorff. Lord High Steward Adam Gottlob Moltke, one of the most powerful and influential men in the land, headed the project with Nicolai Eigtved as the royal architect and supervisor.
The project consisted of four identical from outside (but different in styles on the inside) mansions, built to house four distinguished families of nobility from the royal circles, placed around an octagonal square.
When the Royal Family found itself homeless after the Christiansborg Palace fire of 1794, the palaces had been empty for long periods throughout the year, with the exception of the Brockdorff Palace that housed the Naval Academy. The noblemen who owned them were willing to part with their mansions for promotion and money, so the Moltke and Schack Palaces were acquired in the course of a few days. Since that date successive royal family members have lived at Amalienborg as a royal residence and kings have lent their names to four the palaces; Christian VII’s Palace (used for events and official royal ceremonies), Christian VIII’s Palace (currently Amalienborg museum), Frederick VIII’s Palace (residence of King Frederik XI and Princess Mary) and Christian IX’s Palace (residence of the Queen and Prince Consort).
Interestingly, Christian VIII’s Palace was sold tot he royal family by the entailed estate of Restrup, which had been established in 1756 by Levertzau, the late owner. The family set one condition when they sold the building— that the Count’s coat of arms should never be removed from the building. It can still be seen beside that of the monarch’s.

Amalienborg is guarded day and night by Royal Life Guards (Den Kongelige Livgarde). Their regular blue full dress uniform dates back to 1848 and is fairly similar to that of the Foot Guards regiments of the British Army: a scarlet tunic; blue trousers; and a navy bearskin cap. The Tall Fur Bearskin Cap weighs 4 Kg – and if the temperature reaches over + 30° C the fur cap is replaced by a smaller and more cool and comfortable Garrison Cap.
On special occasions and other ceremonial matters within the Royal House, such as birthdays, weddings, christening, anniversaries, the Royal Danish Life Guards will wear the red uniform dating back to about 1660.
The guard march from Rosenborg Castle at 11.30 am daily through the streets of Copenhagen, and execute the changing of the guard in front of Amalienborg at noon. In addition, post replacement is conducted every two hours.
When the Queen is in residence the The King’s Guard (Kongevagt) also march alongside the changing the guard at noon, accompanied by a band that plays traditional military marches. The Guard Lieutenant (Løjtnantsvagt) is always alerted when Prince Henrik or another member of the royal family are reigning in absence of the Queen.

Face-off between the forces of light and darkness 😀 😀 😀

The guys stared at one another for a full minute! 🙂

And off they went… And so did we, as this was the end of the city tour.
By the way, speaking of the Queen…
Queen Margrethe II (full name: Margrethe Alexandrine Þórhildur Ingrid), born 16 April 1940, is the queen regnant of Denmark. her main tasks are to represent the Kingdom abroad and to be a unifying figurehead at home by participating in ceremonies such as exhibition openings, inauguration of bridges, anniversary celebrations and the like. She receives foreign ambassadors and awards honors and medals.
Margrethe is no boring queen – it seems most Danish Royalty is bad-ass in one way or another :). It turns out that she is an accomplished painter and has held many art shows over the years. Her illustrations—under the pseudonym Ingahild Grathmer—were used for the Danish edition of The Lord of the Rings, which she was encouraged to illustrate in the early 1970s. She sent them to J.R.R. Tolkien who was struck by the similarity of her drawings to his own style. Margrethe’s drawings were redrawn by the British artist Eric Fraser in the translation published in 1977 and re-issued in 2002. She even is rumored to have participated in the Danish LoTR translation, as she also happens to be an accomplished translator.
In 2000, she illustrated Henrik, the Prince Consort’s poetry collection Cantabile. Another skill she possesses is design, having designed the costumes for the Royal Danish Ballet’s production of A Folk Tale and for the 2009 Peter Flinth film, “De vilde svaner” (the Wild Swans). She also designs her own clothes and is known for her colorful and sometimes eccentric clothing choices. She was listed as one of the fifty best-dressed over 50s by the Guardian in March 2013.
On top of all that Margrethe is a chain smoker famous for her tobacco habit. However, on 23 November 2006 the Danish newspaper B.T. reported an announcement from the Royal Court stating that in future the Queen would smoke only in private.

More random Danish trivia:
1. Danish men marry the oldest of all Europeans – at 32 years old in average.
2. The country’s average height above sea level is only 31 meters and the highest natural point is Møllehøj, at 170.86 meters.
3. The World Audit ranks Denmark as the world’s most democratic and least corrupted country in 2008. It is also second for freedom of press.
4. A 2007 UNICEF report on child well-being in rich countries ranked Denmark as the 3rd best country overall after the Netherlands and Sweden.
5. Danish people have the lowest income inequality in the world, with a Gini index of 24.7 in 1997.
6. Denmark has had no less than 14 Nobel laureates, including 4 in Literature, 5 in Physiology or Medicine, and one Peace prize. With its population of about 5 million, it is one of the highest per capita ratio of any country in the world.
7. According to the WHO (2002 stats), Danish women have the lowest incidence of obesity in the EU.
8. The architect of the iconic Sydney Opera House was the Dane Jørn Utzon (1918-2008). In 2007, he became only the second person to have his work recognized as a World Heritage Site while he was still alive.
9. In 1989, Denmark became the first country to legalize same-sex unions (although same-sex marriage was not granted until 2012).

Rank it up! Copenhagen has been placed in the following positions by the various ranking entities:
1. No. 1 in June 2013, a Financial Times preview of the Monocle, on the list of the Top 25 Most Livable Cities 2013.
2. 9th for personal safety and 11th for quality of living in the 2011 Mercer worldwide survey of 221 cities.
3. In 2008, No.4 on the Financial Times-owned FDi magazine list of Top50 European Cities of the Future after London, Paris and Berlin. In 2006/07 the Magazine named Copenhagen Scandinavian City of the Future and in 2004/05 Northern European City of the Future ahead of other cities from Scandinavia, UK, Ireland and Benelux.
4. It is the world’s No.7 most expensive city and No.3 most expensive in Europe on the Forbes List.
5. In 2009, named Innovation Nexus City and ranked 12th in Europe and 17th globally for innovation across 31 sectors, out of 256 cities in the Innovation Cities Index published by 2thinknow.
6. 14th in the world and 1st in Scandinavia in the 2008 Worldwide Centers of Commerce Index, published by MasterCard.
7. 3rd in Western Europe and 1st in the Nordic countries for attracting head offices and distribution centers, only surpassed by London and Paris.
8. No.1 out of 254 locations in the Location Ranking Survey performed by ECA International that has asked European experts where they prefer to be stationed worldwide.
9. No.7 as Preferred City For Investment Projects.
10. No.1 in the 2006 Global Earning Ranking.
11. The 5th most popular city in the world for international meetings and conferences.
12. As of 2011, the 17th most expensive city in the world according to the Mercer Cost of Living Survey.
13. The Copenhagen Metro has been named the Greenest in Europe by Siemens/Economist Intelligence Unit and the Best Metro in the World by industry experts..
14. No.6 in Grist Magazine’s “15 Green Cities” list in 2007 making it the greenest capital of Scandinavia.

And more Danish trivia – all hail the local economy!
1. Denmark has the highest employment rate in Europe (75%).
2. In 2012 Denmark enjoyed the 2nd highest nominal GDP per capita in the European Union, after Luxembourg. At purchasing power parity (PPP), Denmark was ranked in 8th position within the EU.
3. As of December 2005, Denmark had the highest percentage of broadband subscriptions in the world, with about 32% of the population connected. In 2010, Denmark ranked third, with 37.7% of the population connected.
4. Denmark has, along with other Scandinavian countries, the second highest standard V.A.T. rate in the world (25%) after Hungary.
5. The world famous building toys Lego are from Denmark. Grown up men who make it to the Lego museum are known to break into tears – and for all the right reasons (I know for a fact if I now got a Lego set, I’d be lost for the society for a very long time!)
6. The A.P. Møller-Mærsk Group (commonly known simply as Mærsk), headquartered in Copenhagen, is the largest container ship operator and supply vessel operator in the world, employing over 100,000 people in 125 countries.
7. The Danish company Bang & Olufsen (B&O) manufacture some of the most upscale audio products, television sets, and telephones in the world.

The church at the Kastellet.

The Kastellet (The Citadel) is one of the best preserved star fortresses in Northern Europe. It is constructed in the form of a pentagram with bastions at its corners. King Christian IV of Denmark initiated Kastellet’s construction in 1626 with the building of an advanced post, the Sankt Annæ Skanse (St. Anne’s Redoubt), on the coast north of the city. The redoubt guarded the entrance to the port, together with a blockhouse that was constructed north of Christianshavn, which had just been founded on the other side of the strait between Zealand and Amager. Kastellet was continuous with the ring of bastioned ramparts which used to encircle Copenhagen but of which only the ramparts of Christianshavn remain today.

The area today has some military presence still, but is designated as a public park and even includes a couple of smaller museums, alongside several other buildings and a mill.

The Church at the Citadel was built in 1704 in heavy Baroque style during the reign of King Frederik IV.

The Gefion Fountain (Danish: Gefionspringvandet) is a large fountain on the harbor front. that features a large-scale group of animal figures being driven by the legendary Norse goddess, Gefjun. It is the largest monument in Copenhagen and used as a wishing well.

Designed by Danish artist Anders Bundgaard, the fountain was donated to the city of Copenhagen by the Carlsberg Foundation on the occasion of the brewery’s 50-year anniversary. It was originally supposed to be located in the main town square outside city hall, but it was decided instead to build it near the Øresund in its current location near Kastellet.

The fountain depicts the mythical story of the creation of the island of Zealand on which Copenhagen is located. The legend appears in Ragnarsdrápa, a 9th-century Skaldic poem recorded in the 13th century Prose Edda, and in Ynglinga saga as recorded in Snorri Sturluson’s 13th century Heimskringla.
According to Ynglinga saga, the Swedish king Gylfi promised Gefjun the territory she could plow in a night. She turned her four sons into oxen, and the territory they plowed out of the earth was then thrown into the Danish sea between Scania and the island of Fyn. The hole became a lake called Lögrinn and Leginum (locative). Snorri identifies the lake Löginn, as the lake of Old Sigtuna west of Stockholm, i.e. Lake Mälaren, an identification that he returns to later in the Saga of Olaf the Holy. The same identification of Löginn/Leginum as Mälaren appears in Ásmundar saga kappabana, where it is the lake by Agnafit (modern Stockholm), and also in Knýtlinga saga.
In spite of Snorri’s identification, tourist information about the fountain identifies the resultant lake as Vänern, Sweden’s largest lake, citing the fact that modern maps show that Zealand and the lake resemble each other in size and shape. Snorri, however, was well acquainted with Vänern as he had visited Västergötland in 1219. When he referred to this lake he called it Vænir.

You’d probably looks just as furious if your mom turned you into plow beasts and made you work all night!

Obviously, we couldn’t leave without paying a visit to this young lady. One of the most prominent symbols of Copenhagen – the Little Mermaid statue.
Her fairy tale daddy Hans Christian Andersen, who was born and lived in the colorful harbor, is also well known for such tales as “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “The Ugly Duckling”.
There is a line of people waiting to take a picture with the Mermaid who, true to its name, is indeed very little in size :).

The statue was created by sculptor Edvard Eriksen after it was commissioned in 1909 by Carl Jacobsen, son of the founder of Carlsberg, who had been so fascinated by a ballet about the fairy tale in Copenhagen’s Royal Theatre and asked the ballerina Ellen Price to model for it. In the end, the statue’s head was modeled after Price, but as the ballerina did not agree to model in the nude, the sculptor’s wife Eline Eriksen posed for the body.
According to German magazine Der Spiegel, the statue located in the harbor has always been an exact copy, with the sculptor’s heirs keeping the original at an undisclosed location. This is probably a very good idea, as the poor thing has been a victim of vandalism for decades: it was beheaded on April 24, 1964 by politically oriented artists of the Situationist movement, among them Jørgen Nash; it lost its right arm on July 22, 1984, although it was returned two days later; almost lost its head again in but 1990 but escaped merely with an 18cm deep cut in the neck; did lose its head again on January 6, 1998 by unknown folk who then returned it anonymously to a nearby TV station; it was knocked off its base with explosives on the night of September 10, 2003 and later found in the harbor’s waters; had pain spilled over it several times; was draped in a burqa in 2004 as a statement against Turkey joining the European Union and again in a Muslim dress and head scarf in May 2007; it even had a dildo attached to the hand, green paint was dumped over, and the words ‘March 8’ written on it on March 8, 2006 – and episode that could be connected with International Women’s Day.
Tired of all this trouble, in 2006, Copenhagen officials announced that the statue may be moved farther out in the harbor, so as to avoid further vandalism and to prevent tourists from climbing onto it.
Aside from the poor martyr of the statue we all see, the mermaid idea is rather popular and thirteen undamaged copies (‘Mermaids of Earth’) are located around the world, including those in: Solvang, California; Kimballton, Iowa; Piatra Neamţ, Romania and a half-sized copy in Calgary, Canada. The grave of Danish-American entertainer Victor Borge includes a copy as well. The fate of a half-size replica that constitutes the Danish contribution to the International Peace Gardens in Salt Lake City was a bit less peaceful: it was stolen on 26 February 2010, but was recovered on 7 April, evidently abandoned in the park after the thief became nervous about being caught with it.
The statue is under copyright until 70 years after the death of the creator (2029); therefore several copies of the statue have provoked legal actions. As of 2012, replicas of the statue can be purchased on the internet, authorized for use by the Eriksen family.
One 76cm replica worth $10,000 was installed in Greenville, Michigan in 1994 to celebrate the town’s Danish heritage. In 2009 the town was sued by the Artists Rights Society claiming the work violated Eriksen’s copyright, and asking for a $3,800 licensing fee.The replica, however, is half the size of the original, has a different face and larger breasts as well as other distinguishing factors, so the copyright claim was later reported dropped.
There are also similarities between the Little Mermaid statue and the Pania of the Reef statue on the beachfront at Napier in New Zealand. The statue of a woman diver (titled “Girl in a Wetsuit” by Elek Imredy) in Vancouver, Canada was placed there when, unable to obtain permission to reproduce the Copenhagen statue, Vancouver authorities selected a modern version.

Memorial to the Danish Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War at the Churchill Park.
The monument was erected for the 220 Danes who died in Spain 1936-38 and was unveiled on 1 November 1986 on the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. The inscription on the back is a quotation from Martin Jensen’s poem “A Greeting to You, Comrades”, which he wrote in homage to the volunteers who fought in Spain in 1937.
On the front of the pyramid in relief lettering: “TIL MINDE OM DE DANSKE SPANIENS FRIVILLIGE” (In memory of the Danish volunteers in the Spanish Civil War); on the front of the plinth carved: “MADRID JAMARA [skal være: JARAMA] HUESCA TERUEL” (Madrid Jamara (misspelling for Jarama) Huesca Teruel); on the left rear side of the pyramid in relief lettering: “EN HILSEN TIL JER KAMMERATER TIL DIG MIN VEN OG MIN BROR DER KÆMPEDE I SPANIENS BJERGE FOR FRIHED OG LYKKE PÅ JORD” (A greeting to you comrades, to you, my friend and my brother, who fought in the mountains of Spain for freedom and happiness on earth); on the right rear side of the pyramid in relief lettering: “550 DANSKE DROG TIL SPANIEN FOR AT BEKÆMPE FAS-CISMEN UNDER DEN SPANSKE BORGER-KRIG 1936-1939 220 GAV DERES LIV” (550 Danes went to Spain to fight fascism during the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 220 sacrificed their lives); on the right rear side of the pyramid carved: “GUADALAJARA EBRO”

Churchillparken (Churchill Park) is a public park in Copenhagen, Denmark, occupying a tract of land between Kastellet and the street Esplanaden. Located on the former esplanade which used to surround Kastellet, the area has a long history as a greenspace but received its current name in 1965 to commemorate Winston Churchill and the British assistance in the liberation of Denmark during World War II.

The bronze statue of a valkyrie, a female figure in Norse mythology who chooses who will die and battle and brings her chosen to Valhalla, an afterlife hall of the slain. It was designed by Stephan Sinding and executed in Paris in 1908 but is based on a sketch from 1872. A smaller version in painted wood, metal and coloured stone was exhibited in 1901 and another version from 1910, in bronze and ivory, is in the collections of the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. A gift from Carl Jacobsen’s Albertine Trust which was created to provide statues and monuments for the parks and squares of Copenhagen, the present statue was originally placed at Langelinie close to the waterfront but was moved to its current park setting when the Kastellet was reconstructed in the 1990s

A little visitor to our car 🙂

A little bit more of the Danish trivia:
1. A lot of Copenhageners cycle — fast. Half of the people pedal to work. Cycling is actually one of the best ways to explore the city, and you can take bikes on trains.
Public transport is efficient. It takes 15 minutes to travel from the airport to the city center by metro, and trains run 24 hours a day.
2. Copenhageners are also law-abiding. Even at 3 a.m. on an icy cold night, with no traffic in sight, they’ll wait for the green light at pedestrian crossings.
3. Copenhagen is glittering with 15 Michelin stars that belong to such places as Noma – the “new Nordic” restaurant that’s been named the World’s Best Restaurant three times, or Relæ (Jægersborggade 41; +45 3696 6609), an experimental, basement restaurant on a street packed with food shops and eateries.
Other great places (not featuring the stars) worth getting a bite at include:
-Kødbyens Fiskebar (Flæsketorvet 100; +45 3215 5656), a stripped-back industrial space that specializes in fish and seafood.
-Aamanns Deli & Take Away (Øster Farimagsgade 10; +45 3555 3344) where smørrebrød, the classic Danish open sandwich, is turned into a delicious work of art.
-Royal Smushi Cafe (Amagertorv 6; +45 3312 1122), which serves “smushi,” a fusion of sushi and smørrebrød.
Make dining reservations early — most restaurants open for online bookings at least two months in advance. Copenhageners tend not to dine late, meaning not a lot of places keep late hours.
Finally, bear in mind that tipping is minimal. Restaurant bills normally include a service charge and taxi drivers don’t expect a tip, although it’s customary to round up the amount.

Since the summer of 2000, Copenhagen and the Swedish city of Malmö have been connected by a toll bridge/tunnel (Øresund Bridge), which carries railroad and automobile traffic. As a result, Copenhagen has become the centre of a larger metropolitan area which spans both nations (that’s the one you see on this picture).

Danes are generally industrious – a trait obvious even from their money (Danish Krone bank notes bear more pictures of bridges and historic finds than famous people — typical of a nation that values construction and craftsmanship over ego).
Another famous bridge – the Great Belt Fixed Link is a suspension bridge between the Danish islands of Zealand and Funen. It is the longest free span bridge (1.6 km) in Europe, and the third longest in the world, after the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge in Japan and the Xihoumen Bridge in China.

Besides inventing awesome bridges (and Lego 🙂 ), they also invented the pedal bin (thank Holger Nielsen who thought one up in 1939 for his wife’s hairdressing salon); existentialist angst — the flip side of all that happiness – is another one of the Danish inventions.

Last sunset of the day… Bye-bye, Denmark, off to Norway, Sweden and Finland!

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Barcelona 2009/2012

This album contains photos from two of my trips to Barcelona: the short stop-over visit in December 2009 (pictures taken with a different camera) and the longer stay in December 2012. The 2012 pictures are marked with *.

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Leah, Aline, Barcelona

I got only a short breather after the last trip – enough to catch up on some sleep and try to out-lay-in-the-bed the aircon-induced flu – and off I went to yet another adventure: in Spain.

I have been to Barcelona before, but only for a day on the way to Morocco. This time the plan was to finally properly see the city. (Picture gallery HERE!!!).

Upon arriving to Barcelona airport, I couldn’t find Aline – I assumed she would be there. Having waited for almost 40 minutes at arrivals, I texted her to ask where they were (her and the other people sharing the car with us). I got instructions to walk outside of the terminal and all the way through the parking lot. I did that – no one there… 20 minutes later I managed to get ‘row 37’ intel from someone in the car… That they were standing on the utmost left (as you exit) corner of the terminal building was, I’m guessing, too simple of a description to tell me from the get-go :). We finally found each other and drove off to Lloret del Mar for the Zouk and the Chocolate Factory Congress. We were lucky to find a parking spot about 350 meters away from the hotel (the hotel has no parking space… Go figure :)) and enjoyed a great weekend full of dancing there :). But this is about Barcelona, not Lloret…

We returned to BCN on Monday afternoon (December 10). At first we couldn’t get through to our CS host… We needed to drop the luggage off then return the car to the rental at the airport, plus drop off two passengers for their flights. Passenger 3 was the (in?)famous Fabiano, aka Nyx, the protagonist of a ‘saga‘ that began this summer. This time, thank goodness, he wasn’t catching any flights (phew!) but staying in the city instead. Well, sort of… Turned out that instead of staying in Barcelona, he was somewhere up in the mountains at Molins del Rei, which basically ruined any party plans right there :(.

Right then on Monday though he was getting picked up at 11pm, which was fortunate: we were able to grab a coffee at a nearby cafe, leave Nyx and our luggage at Spiral Dance studio and drive off to the airport. Rental car drop-off was in the middle of nowhere, but at least a shuttle bus took us back to the terminal, where we had a lunch with our friends, saw them go off to catch their flights, then caught a train back to Barcelona, navigating our way there with a smartphone app that positions you as a blue dot on the map, which moves as you do :). Best of all – it doesn’t need internet to work!

We then fetched our suitcases from Spiral and walked to where we were staying (15 minutes from Spiral, not too far from placa Espanya), settled in, agreed to intersect later on with our host somewhere in the city and went out for a stroll. The evening out ended up being cancelled and it probably wasn’t such a bad thing, after all – we were tired and needed to sleep, which is exactly what we did after a short walk around.

On Tuesday the central heating (and, thus, hot water) broke in the building… Something that would have been fixed in a few hours in Holland was, apparently, no big deal mid-winter in Barcelona… We chilled at the house for most of the day, the weekend’s toll still very much upon us (my knee was hurting for whatever reason, Aline’s ankle was hurting for the reason that someone ‘graciously’ stepped full-weight on it… Maybe one day people would learn to watch out and keep their weight on their toes?), but ventured out into one of the most famous cava/tapas places in Barcelona in the evening with our host. The prices there are outrageously low (you can get a bottle of Cava for 2 Euros until a certain time…), the local tradition is to throw the food wraps right down onto the floor, there are no seats and you may need to learn to levitate if you get there around lunch hour, but everything is tasty, staff is friendly and the place is just great :).

Jamonnnnn!!!!!!!!!!!!! MMMMMMM!!!!!

We then proceeded to Mariatchi bar – it belongs to Manu Chao who, apparently, drops in ever so often and may randomly start singing and people start saying “wow, he really sounds like Manu Chao!” lollll…

At first, everything was civilized… (the ‘before’ picture…)

Then it got out of hand somewhat… (the ‘after’ picture 🙂 )

We had a relaxing evening and a few semi-philosophical conversations, then retired to our humble quarters.

You won’t notice it if you sit on it… But Mariatchi furniture, apparently, can boast some sound advice 🙂

On Wednesday we took the free city tour of Barcelona. There are several to choose from (google ‘free city tour Barcelona), but we opted for the one we could take at 1pm (11am when the other companies started was way too early for us night owls and 3pm would be getting too dark for good pictures).

Turns out that decision was fateful in more ways than we could imagine…

For starters though the coolest thing was  that there were 4 of us at the tour: Aline, myself, Hellen (another fellow traveler from Kenya) and Jamie (the guide). It was pretty much private and cozy.

Big omelette!!!

Aline Dali 🙂

Leah Dali 🙂

Exploring the city

But we got even more lucky when we returned to the bar for a coffee.

Warming up after the tour

Closer… TravelBound bar has cozy atmosphere 🙂

After warming up and saying goodbye to Hellen and Jamie, I went to the bathroom and in the meantime Aline ended up talking with Luis and Mamadou, who came to BCN from Philly. Somehow our shower/heating situation popped up in the conversation, and some minutes later they invited us to shower at the hostel where they were staying! (thank you, guys, you rock!!!)

Later that evening we grabbed what we needed and headed to the hostel to crash its facilities. Hot shower was a BLISS!!! That we were running out of clean clothes (because we only packed for a certain number of days…) was less of an issue than inability to rinse off and wash the hair! Finally nice and clean, we were ready for the night’s party, which was at Nos Vemos. It was supposed to be Salsa/Bachata party with occasional Kizomba/Zouk music. For some strange reason google convinced us it was 20 minutes walking distance from the hostel… When we finally got there almost an hour later, having lost half of the people who decided to join us at the hostel, it was already pretty darn late. But we still ended up having a lovely night, danced a bit and were smart enough to take a taxi back to the hostel.

Mamadou, Leah, Luis, Aline

Showing the guys some Zouk tricks 🙂

Pretending to be a P.I.M.P.

Now Luis got jealous…

So we took a similar picture with him as well 🙂

Now, the original plan was to contact our host, who we knew was out with friends after watching the football game, and join them in the city, then get home together. However, even though I texted him already from Nos Vemos, there was no reply… We were all tired, so we just crashed the hostel in the end and stayed for a sleep-over :).

On Thursday morning we still haven’t heard from our host. Guys were leaving the city and we left the hostel around 9:30am because we wanted to also make the free Gaudi tour at 11am. We woke our host up to let us in, changed and headed to the tour. It was great, although it was relatively cold outside. We got a lovely guide Jessica who seemed to know everything there was to know and a bit more :).

Segrada Familia and the two mad tourists… I won that lollipop by accident for saying Dali’s name louder than Aline did… But you’d have to wait for the Barcelona picture gallery to know what the question was and why you’d be probably blown away by it 🙂

Later that day we finalized our plans… to stay in Barcelona longer! My ticket was non-changeable so I had to get a new one, but oh well – whatever :). We decided to stay at St. Christopher’s Inn – the same hostel we ‘crashed’ the night before. Since we were going to a party that night and had no idea what time we’d be back, plus our host had other CSers staying over from Friday on, we decided to make the move in the afternoon – taking advantage of our all-day metro ticket as well.

We fell in love with the hostel! The food (and drinks, for those who are into that) was cheap, the portions were huge and everything was fresh and finger-licking delicious!

Yup, it’s THAT good 🙂

The rooms were warm, everything was new and clean, the entire building was secure, it was possible to lock your stuff and suitcase into a big drawer under the bed. Beds and pillows were super comfy and, best of all, each bed had a heavy curtain (whoever came up with it was a genius!!!) that could separate you from the rest of the ‘world’ in seconds, shielding you from any light and even a bit of the sounds. You ended up in your own little ‘bunker’ of a sorts – with a personal headlight and a socket :). Oh, did I mention: all that and a free breakfast – for 7 Euros per night (in a 12-bed dorm)! EPIC!

I mean, how cool is a hostel with SUCH house rules?! We definitely followed rule number 1… And sorry about breaking number 6 the night before, but you gained us as customers in the end!!!

After a great dinner we headed to Dio Club for a b-day Zouk party. At least this one was relatively easy to reach because it was within city limits :).

Wheee!

Me, Oscar

The cake at the party was an additional bonus 🙂 🙂 :).

On Friday Aline was originally supposed to be on the bus to Reus at 8am. At 9am she received an e-mail from Ryanair that her early morning flight from Barcelona to Eindhoven was cancelled due to snow in Milan (I know, I know, we also had a hard time trying to find a connection)… In other words, we were destined to stay in Barcelona longer anyway :).

Oscar joined us for the day. At first we headed to Belushi’s for a few drinks/coffee’s and to enjoy contemplating over the bar’s messages printed on the furniture:

Furniture philosophy 1…

Furniture philosophy 2…

Furniture philosophy 3…

We have arranged to meet up with our host at the Wok Dao restaurant near Sant Antoni market at 3pm, but the guys overslept after yet another night out and didn’t make it. At least his tip for the place was spot on! Wok Dao has 9.58Eur buffet from 2 till 5pm – all you can eat. I was stunned by the number of different things on offer, a breathtaking choice of seafood, vegetables, some meats, desserts… Jamonnnnn!!!! Lol (I’m such a big fan, I even managed to carve out a couple of big pieces and took them with me for a later snack :). Actually, to be fair, Oscar managed to carve out the bigger piece for me :)). Everything we tried was well-cooked and delicious! We stuffed ourselves motionless and headed back to the hostel. It was Oscar’s turn to crash the showers :). We got ready and headed to who-knows-where-the-hell-that-was party of the night at Icarus LaBlue club.

We were supposed to take a train to Molins del Rei then get picked up by Laia by car… Of course, nothing could be as easy – there was some accident or what not on the tracks, so we had to change the train and wait forever. In the end, we were late for the rendez-vous with Laia, but we were still at the party an hour before it started… So we sat around in the car eating chips and salted nuts :).

When it was time to get in, the security guys were giving a hard time to another girl – Diana – who came all the way from Barcelona. They wouldn’t believe she was over 18! As luck has it, she had no ID with her… It took a while of trying to talk them into letting her in, but they wouldn’t. A bit later (Diana still outside) I had an epiphany – to ask the people she was staying with to take a picture of her passport and send it to her. It turned out the mission was even simpler – she had a pdf of her passport in her e-mail, but no internet connection. Laia let her connect to the internet off her phone,  Diana found the file, the security were baffled  that she was way over 18, and we all finally entered the venue without suffering any losses to the party troops :). Except I suspect the club may be priding itself in just being difficult for no good reason in general…

The party was nice – Salsa/Bachata in the bigger room and Zouk at the back – but it was a shame that very few people showed up…

4… (Diana, Laia, Aline, me)

3… (Oscar, me, Diana)

2… (me, Diana)

I also realized very quickly that my dance shoes stick to the unwashed floor in the Zouk room… At first, I simply took them off and wanted to dance in the knee-highs I was wearing – they were much more slippery. However, the barmaid came up to me in the middle of dancing (like the bitch couldn’t wait till the end of the fucking song, this urgent was her mission… Seriously?) and told me I am not allowed to dance without my shoes on! I told her I can’t dance with the shoes on (and ruin my knees after 2 turns? No, thanks) and asked whether she expected me to just sit down for the rest of the night, as well as what was the reason for such a ‘rule’. For all I know, if someone wants to dance barefoot – it’s their own damned business. Remember Nos Vemos – the Salsa party place we walked miles to get to? I forgot the bag with my dancing shoes at the hostel, so I danced the whole night simply in my socks – somehow, it wasn’t any problem for anyone there.

No explanation was offered to satisfy my curiosity though… If I hate anything more than generally retarded and obviously pointless rules, it’s the absence of some semi-sentient explanation for those retarded rules, even if made up. Damn, tell me that the club is liable for any injuries a person may suffer while inside (even if it’s a lie) and being without shoes increases a chance of an accident, for all I know, but tell me something! Having given myself 3 minutes to be majorly pissed off, I simply took my knee-highs off and then pulled them over the shoes that I put back onto bare feet. Sticky-floor problem – solved (like a BOSS, lmao :D). I was almost wishing for someone to come to me again to complaint about the “no shoes” rule to have it stuck under their noses that I was, in fact, wearing my shoes, fuck you very much for your concern, but I guess I screwed up that pleasure for myself because the barmaid saw me do the trick…

Just about the time I warmed up and forgot about the sticky shoes ordeal (some time before 2am), Aline decided to leave, as there were some people driving back to Barcelona. We had no idea otherwise about how to get back to the city in the morning… I wasn’t too eager to leave having dragged my lazy ass all the way out here and just after getting into the dance mood, so we split up and I stayed till the end. Besides, Diana also came from Barcelona, had no foreseeable way of getting back and was staying till the morning.

As is often the case, the strategy paid off. First, I was used as a floor mop by Fabiano (no hard feelings, maaan, it was great fun, as always!):

Cleaning the floor…

Down, down, down, down, down…

That face!!! LOLLLL

Later in the night I finally had one of my Zouk wet dreams come true – to dance with two guys at once (it’s a very different dynamic and I always wanted to see how that would go, but never quite had a chance before :)). So me was happy to have stayed :).

My general reliance on “things usually sort themselves out somehow” wasn’t wrong: nothing terrifying happened on Saturday morning – we got a ride from one of the dancers to the train station and caught an early train back straight to Catalunya where the hostel was :). I threw some of the breakfast into my system and went to sleeeeeep :).

In the afternoon we made it to Park Guell to tick off yet another touristy thing on our lists.

To jump or not to jump, that is the question?…

The world is mine!

Paparazzo

Must say that the benches were surprisingly comfortable…

Awake…

Hypothetically, there was a Zouk party somewhere even further away from Barcelona this night, but we were both tired and it was way too far off. Aline stayed at Belushi’s to chill off, and I ended up going to check out a milonga at Bellos Aires with Diana and her friend. I was very lucky to see them in the street after exiting the metro, because I would never in my life have found the place on my own: it was an unmarked door on a small dark street and you had to go to the 3d floor before you saw any actual people and heard the music and realized you weren’t tricked into one of Jigsaw’s traps, after all. I must say the sight was depressing: the level of dancing and the beauty of it were eons ahead of the Prague scene. In Prague, people simply walk around and do nothing much else. Here – people dance. I wish I could take all of the Tango dancers from Prague, bring them to the milonga in Barcelona so that they can see what Tango looks like… Maybe one day I’ll learn it properly!

Sunday was our really last day in Barcelona. We decided to go up the Montjuïc mountain, met up with Diana and first took a bus, then (having descended way too early) took the funicular up the hill.

Hi there!

Always with a camera!

Hello, Kitty! 🙂

Super-cat!

We made a few pictures and a video for Zouk is Everywhere (shhh, it’s a secret 😉 ).

Triple-cambre :).

Save the princess from the dark tower!!! lolll

Lean back!

Nice and soft…

I simply couldn’t resist…

I believe I can fly…

We then walked all the way down to the port, enjoyed the sunset, went to the hostel for the dinner, showered and headed to the last parties at Port Olympic. One was at Zich and the other at Salsa (about 50 meters away). Many people walk back and forth between the two. Zich was all about Lambada though, so we stuck around Salsa – we liked the music there better.

The party finished at half past midnight – waaaaaay too early. Some of the ‘last survivors’ went for a dinner in McDonald’s and then we spent roughly forever trying to talk Nyx into not going back to Molins del Rei but going somewhere to continue the night. Actually, it was more like that he spent forever trying to talk the person who was driving him back to stay in the city… Finally peer pressure seemed to have worked, so we all got into the cars and first went towards Belushi’s. Unfortunately, it closed earlier on Sunday… We then walked a bit further and ended up at some gay club that was open till 5am :). Nyx got there a bit later than we did, the person driving him managed to experience a change of mind about joining us and wanted to go back. In the end the ‘compromise’ was to split – the a-social one left and Nyx stayed with us all at the club. It was a good decision to stay there – the music was good, the people were generally nice and unobtrusive (for the most part, with very few exceptions) and we had a fun time there dancing and fooling around. Dani dropped in later on as well, so it was a cool, fun night out.

At the end of the party the very very last survivors (Dani, Nyx, myself, Aline, Diana and some random folk from the club) went to an afterpaaaahhrty bar (which was impossible to find unless you’d know about it). Despite the dodginess of the place, the music was surprisingly good, too!

The decent picture…

The indecent picture 🙂

We stayed there till Aline had to leave for the airport… After that we walked to Dani’s place, watched TV for about an hour chilling on the couch, and finally the guys went to sleep and Diana and I had to go (I also had a flight to catch). At least we had a proper night out in Barcelona after a week of being here :).

I got back to the hostel, had breakfast, finished packing and set off to the airport… Bye-bye, Barcelona! Hopefully, till next time!

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Maldives on a budget? Why not!

Maldives has always been on my bucket list… granted, every country on this planet is on that same list, but this one was in the top 20 for sure, if only because it is also in the top 20 to drown due to global warming :). This year my mom and a few other people had to go to Sri Lanka for a congress and, lo and behold, the cheapest available flights were by Emirates through Male! As we normally stay a few extra days before or after the congress anyway, we decided why not do the same, just not in Colombo…

It’s hard to imagine how people arranged things and found out information before the internet… For instance, how else than from the internet forums would we ever learn which island is the cheapest to stay at? Or which hotel to choose on the island? Or how to best get there? Actually, to begin with, how else would we quickly find cheap flights for the needed route? But we live in the age of the world wide web and all this was all possible, so this is how it went.

November 14. We set off to the airport. Once inside, we pass winter clothes and shoes back to my dad for the keeping – no need for the extra luggage on this trip – and proceed to baggage drop-off. The two other ladies we are flying with are lovely, but suffer from memory loss: I need to remind them, as before every flight, to drink up their water, put all cremes/perfumes over 50ml and manicure scissors/nail foils into the suitcases (tricky since they already wrapped them… I squeeze everything into my own…). At security check we spend a few extra minutes trying to untangle one of them out of her belt and finally make it through to the gate.

Must say that this particular time cabin crew on both stretches of our flight was somehow either more tired or just slightly less friendly/responsive than is the norm on Emirates… It didn’t matter too much though… The down side of the well-equipped carrier was that I made the ‘wise’ choice of watching movies all the way from Moscow to Dubai instead of sleeping…

November 15.

The crew :). Left to right: mom, Nadezda, Liliya.

Dubai terminal

Waterfall

We had a 4h 05 min transit in Dubai – an important number because, as it turned out, Emirates issue free food vouchers for all passengers with a stop-over of 4 hours or more to be first requested at the counter in the terminal and then redeemed in one of the restaurants from the list. I thought this is something of an anti-economical strategy for the airline (I remember BA saved millions of $ when they decided to put one fewer olives into the business class salads…) – a conclusion that resulted in 100$ loss on a bet to my mom that she seems to have, luckily, forgotten about :).

We sort of battled the urge to gobble up some McD or super-spicy Thai or what not… NOT :D, ‘settled’ on (as in, ran to) the Ocean’s Basket place near gate B26 and ordered 2 portions of fish-n-rice and 2 portions of shrimps-n-rice: the only two dishes the vouchers could get there (you could have it with chips as well). They we absolutely delicious!

Yummm, yummmmm!!! Almost done 🙂

We then went upstairs to some cafe and ordered tea, the power of which I grossly underestimated: the waiter unloaded what seemed to be half a pack of green leaf tea into the pot and I got enough of a kick out of it to completely wake me up for the rest of the journey! So much for the plans to nap…

An hour before our next flight we set off in the direction of the gate. On our way, we dove into one of the DutyFree shops to sample perfumes – purely out of curiosity, although I discovered one absolutely addictive scent there (but I don’t use perfumes… Besides, it cost an effing fortune…) – and, roughly 40 minutes before the flight, emerged, all fragrant, to proceed to the gate C19… which ended up being a whole freaking kilometer away at the very end of the terminal extension downstairs! This, however, I only discovered after I saw ‘last call’ announcement for our flight and proposed to run ahead of my ladies with our trolley of our carry-on scraps to make sure I get to the gate and hold them off, if needed. When my ladies made it to the far ends of the segment, they walked right past me and C19, so I had to run after them, but we actually made it and the flight was stuck in airport traffic for extra 15 minutes. Phew – this could have been an expensive miscalculation of the terminal’s length…

Up in the air – view over Dubai. It was shaky on ascent and hard to get a stable frame…

Since my naive hopes of a nap during segment 2 were crashed by the tea and the jogging session, I watched another movie. Towards the end of the flight the crew finally presented my mom with her b-day cake (we kinda expected it on flight 1…) and asked us whether we wished for our picture to be taken… Ehmmmm… half a day into a trip? Sssssssuuuuurrrrre… We had to carry that cake through the heat of the day but in the end it made it and was well worth it, too. Thank you, Emirates! I’d rather take pictures of the sunrise instead, here:

Breaking dawn

Engine of life

Color of the rising sun

Morning palette

Welcome to Maldives.

At first, we had a mission. The ticket for one of the ladies traveling with us was bought separately from us three. It was the same exact route we had, but the price went up tremendously by the day she decided to join us and the only way to get the same price was to indicate the Male-Colombo flight segment (our flight path was Moscow-(via Dubai)-Male-Colombo-Moscow) as being later on the day of our arrival to Male. We could not change that ticket in time through the booking site and Emirates couldn’t change it until the ticket was used up up to the segment in question. So once in Male, we went to the Emirates office and, when someone showed up, asked if it would be possible to change the date for Male-Colombo flight to November 22. Originally we expected a change fee, but we were lucky and it got changed for free :). This taken care of, off we went into the heat.

Money: The airport is its own island and was undergoing renovation/construction when we arrived. The only exchange office is located immediately at arrival before you exit into the terminal itself. Most places on Maldives happily accept USD, giving you change in either USD or local currency, but you might want to stock on some local cash, especially if you only have banknotes of higher denomination with you. In case the exchange office guy is not there and no one knows when he’ll be back, you can also change some money at the help desk to the left of the exit from arrivals section. No one warns you that you cannot change Maldives currency back to any other at departure unless you got a receipt for the original exchange transaction (help desk doesn’t give receipts ;)). This means you’d need to spend all your local money before you leave or do some shopping at the duty free.

Ferry. You can, of course, order speedboat transfer to your hotel directly from the airport, but those are costly, especially if you are only 1-4 people. If your arrival/departure times allow it and you decide to stay on one of the local islands, as we did, it’s better to take a ferry. If you are going to Male, then once you exit the terminal, you need to go right to the ferry docks. They leave every 15-30 minutes or so, depending on the time of the day and the tickets are something close to $1. Ferry crew will help with suitcases.

On Male we had to go to the port on other side of the island to catch our ferry to Maafushi island. It is a roughly 5 minute drive but if you have serious luggage, don’t hesitate to catch a taxi – they have a flat rate of close to nothing ($8) and dragging your stuff around in the heat is a highly questionable pleasure. There are a dozen of eateries (locals called them ‘cafes’, but I’d say it’s a stretch…) near that port where you can wait out, but order at your own risk. “Not spicy” is a meaningless promise in most cases. Even basic foods, like pasta, can be made so terribly wrong you’d think one would need a special degree in “spoiling simple foods” to cook that up. But hey, it costs close to nothing and if you’re not hungry, you can simply order a drink.

Maafushi. The ferry leaves to Maafushi around 3pm and costs about $2 per person. According to the seasoned travelers we eventually met who have been to the Maldives a few times already, it is probably thus far the cheapest place to stay at on Maldives (not counting a hostel on Male, but staying on Male is thoroughly worthless and should be avoided at all costs, unless it is an emergency or absolute necessity due to flight schedule) and also the island from which various trips are the cheapest.

Why the trips? Because there is close to nothing to do on Maldives. You have the picture-perfect ocean and beaches, snorkeling, souvenir shops, some SPA procedures if you’re into it and the rest are water sports. In the big resorts there may be some additional entertainment (I’m guessing), but on the local island like Maafushi there is not. Thus, if you are a beach potato, you’d love it here. Or you can take snorkel/diving trips to either other islands or specific locations at the atolls to swim with all sorts of creatures of your selection. And that is the cheapest, for now, from Maafushi.

Try to coordinate your potential trips with other guests at the hotel: if you are fewer than 6 people, try to get 6-8 to go together, as it makes any trip cheaper. If you happen to be alone and you want to join people from another hotel on a trip (no one else from yours is going where you want to go), try to arrange it in advance: the owners would need to contact one another to arrange everything and you’re likely to need to sign a responsibility waiver for your own hotel in case of any damage/injury during the trip.

We stayed at the Stingray Beach Inn. It is, at the moment, one of the cheapest hotels on Maldives, but very comfortable, with nice rooms with A/C, hot water, TV and fresh towels for both the shower and the beach provided every day, good reviews and a very helpful and friendly owner – Ibrahim. Other hotels didn’t have nice reviews… Breakfast is the only downside – if you are there for longer than a few days, the ‘choice’ of eggs/sausage/toast/jam/coffee (or all that with beans) vs. canned tuna mixed with coconut and served with plain white nan-type bread can get a bit annoying.

The sad breakfast…

What you can do is order breakfast for just a few days, then take the remaining days with no breakfast and order a-la carte – at the hotel or elsewhere. Keep in mind that everything takes time on Maldives, so you can order your food then go back to your room to shower, for example, and come back out 40 minutes later to still wait a bit for it to be ready :). Order before you’re too hungry, in other words :).

November 16. Food seems to be an issue on Maldives. You basically are gambling every time you order: it may end up being nice and tasty, or completely ruined… In our hotel we found out chicken cream soup and sweet corn creme soup were really good. In the restaurant near the dock the same chicken cream soup was mediocre at best… Milkshakes, on the other hand, are better there than elsewhere, the grilled fish is very good, so are boiled vegetables (which aren’t even close to cooked at Stingray, on the other hand…). Fresh juices in our hotel were a curious thing to say the least but really nice at the other two restaurants. Pasta was the best on the beach – it was, for starters, actual spaghetti (Carbonara) and properly done, too. Avoid ‘barbecue’ sauce there, unless you’re into overly vinegary sour experiences. You have to explicitly tell them to not put anything (and insist on no sauce, too) onto your food, if that’s the way you want it (for instance, we prefer our sea food and grilled chicken to be cooked with no additional spices/sauces), because if you say just ‘no spices’ they coat it in that freaking mega-sour sauce instead for no good reason :). However, if you give very clear instructions, they manage pretty well :). One thing that surprised us was the collective inability to cook prawns… The tiny ones in the pasta or the slightly bigger ones on ‘grill’ were somehow, in all three restaurants, cooked to the point of turning into rubber… Apparently, not all island cooks can deal with sea food :).

We met our hotel neighbors that day and opened up the swimming season :). Trivia fact: on local islands the sandy beaches change location depending on the time of the year. For part of the year a lovely sandy beach will be on one side of the island, and for the other part of the year on the other side. It depends on the currents and winds moving around the coral sands. On big resort islands special structures are built to prevent this beach migration thing. Maafushi island hotel owners are thinking to also construct some shields to make sure the beach gets a bit bigger and stays there throughout the year.

November 17. Way too early in the morning for my liking we set off to chase a shark…

Fellow insomniacs 🙂

Way too early…

Off we go!

Clouds on the water… I was trying to catch a photo of the flying fish but there were only a few and they disappeared before I could get my camera out…

Color of the water… Taken while looking for le shark 🙂

Stork…

A colorful boat

One of the islands we have passed on the way while on the quest for the ‘big fish’

Whale shark, to be exact – it was a snorkeling trip. It took roughly 2 hours to get to the area by speedboat and another 2 hours to locate the shark itself – I was lucky to have landed on the bench at the very back of the boat, so I could lay down. When we finally got a signal about the shark and got there, there was a whole huge crowd of snorkelers (maybe 50 people?) chasing the poor thing with cameras and without :). One of the people we were with on that trip had an underwater camera, so there are a couple of pictures and a video :). There was only one shark there that day – here it is:

Hello, shark!

It seemed to move slow, but it was a challenge to keep up with it!

Poor thing had a piece of it missing… 😦

After the chase we stopped on one of the local islands. Most houses were destroyed by the tsunami and have been rebuilt or are in the process.

First to greet us 🙂

Attributes of a paradise

Locals often hang out on such hammock/net hanging seats…

Awaiting completion

Boat house

Feet! This began a couple of years ago in Goa (pictures not up yet), but I plan to continue the series from now on 🙂

Leaving footprints in the world…

Local dinosaur 🙂

It was great at posing 🙂

Pink!!!

Tree

Colors

At the dinner in White Shell the waiter brought the red napkin arranged as a little boat, so we tried to copy the design 🙂

November 18. I caught up on sleep and swimming and took a few pictures of the sunset.

Water

Fishing at sunset

The outline of the clouds roughly repeats the outline of the mini-island

Another stork

Silhouettes

After the sun sets, dusk lasts only briefly – they go fishing and move really quickly to make sure to be back before darkness covers the island

I also spent a sleepless night helping out on some writing, so when on

November 19. my mom and the ladies decided to go watch the sunrise, I tagged along and took a few pictures, of course :).

Sunrise at Maafushi

I bled out my camera battery trying to chase the damn thing into my camera’s focus range! In the end I decided to pick it up and take a picture somewhere where it had nowhere to run 🙂

Homeless one :).

It rained today, so I could sleep half through the day without missing out on any great weather :).

November 20. We decided to go snorkel with manta rays :). There were 8 of us on the boat, so it was fun :).

Stingray-chasing crew

On our way to see the stingrays we also saw an entire crowd of dolphins. First they were far away from us, but later on we got closer to where some of them were – swimming around, doing the ‘wheels’ and occasionally jumping out of the water :).

Over there in the distance…

Closer 🙂

At first we only saw 2 of them (one disappeared elsewhere soon). I admire the ability of the  locals to spot them from afar just by looking at the water surface! We took a few pictures from the boat and then jumped into the water with the masks.

Stingray and the fish

Closer

Fully equipped and ready to go for it!

I’m after you!

The very first stingray was swimming right at me at one point, so I tried to keep still and when it was passing me by, I managed to touch it on the ‘wing’. I say ‘wing’ because the stingrays don’t ‘swim’ – the way they move is exactly the same as the way some birds fly, except the speed is adapted to the viscosity of water. It got scared and went deeper into the water for a little while… Its surface is kind of slippery :). There was 1 more at a different spot and finally, when we already were planning to go to the Biadhoo island, a whole bunch of them together. The underwater pictures are the courtesy of our friends with the camera who went to swim with the stingrays 2 days earlier than we did.

Stingrays, like whale sharks, filter water out for krill

After satisfying our curiosity about those gracious creatures, we have proceeded to the Biadhoo island.

Hello, Biadhoo!

It is just a stone’s throw away from Maafushi, it is pretty cheap to enter ($11) for the day and offers lovely beaches and more lush vegetation. It’s good for snorkeling as well, although I saw more fish on the corals near Maafushi beach.

Beach

Passage to… where? There’s only water there and nowhere else to walk! 😀 Is that a shortcut to drown oneself? 🙂 🙂 🙂

Almost a typical picture 🙂

Green. There was a gap between some greenery – it formed a secluded little niche in which we could stay in the shade and yet right at the beach, away from everyone else’s eyes 🙂

This birdie has visited us on the beach. It walked from the bushes on one side of the niche to the other side, searched for something for a while and strolled back where it came from. It was lifting its tail all the time 🙂

At the cafe/restaurant near the beach there was a tree I could not resist climbing onto 🙂

Light at the end of the tunnel can sometimes be the hot sunshine :). Around midday we decided to take a stroll around the entire island – to avoid the worst of the heat and simply look around.

Black and green

Entrance to paradise

Walking tree

Posing…

Since Biadhoo island is a resort, there is much more vegetation on it than on Maafushi.

There are countless little crabs in the dry leaves on the ground. If you listen, you can hear the constant rustling – that’s the sound of them crawling around :).

The ‘walking’ tree starts sprouting roots from its branches. Once the roots reach down to the ground, they become a new ‘trunk’ for the tree. The result of it is a tree with many thinner trunks. The tree can move to a ‘better’ spot this way – more sunny or where more water is.

Like this

Pathway around the island

Well… good for you, guys! Best of luck! 🙂 LOLLLL (I am sort of curious as to what type of ‘working’ do they have in mind because there is literally nothing else on that beach except that sign…)

Dinner 🙂

More dinner 🙂

Crooked tree

In the evening we were treated to a concert of local music and dance.

Here they are – young guys ranging from 17 to about 25 years old. The skills of singing/dancing/playing drums are taught generation to generation.

Besides our own dancing queen Liliya who, despite her age, could probably out-last them all on the floor, there was one particular participant who, it seems, was way more into it then everyone else and who added what I bet are non-traditional elements to their program :). The more interesting stuff begins around the 6th minute of the video:

November 21. I taught one of our ladies how to use fins and the snorkeling mask… So we chased fishies down the corals for almost two hours :). There was a heart drawn on the beach for some honeymooners – everyone took care not to mess it up and made sure to take pictures inside :).

The heart

Copy-cat 🙂

I have heard before that sunsets at Maldives are spectacular. So tonight I decided to take my time and take a million pictures of the sunset :). This time I was lucky because there were more clouds and they made for spectacular scenery.

Here we go, my million sunset pictures, frame 1…

Ok guys, I have no clue whatsoever how to properly take panoramic pictures and this was the first time ever that I tried it on my camera. I know even less about image editing and processing, so this is basically a rough draft of what could be a nice picture :). But just to give the idea of how the entire sky looked like that evening – it serves the purpose :).

A few minutes later…

Almost done 🙂

Last one!

In the evening we made a major mistake of going to the souvenir shop… We left with I’m not even sure how much stuff… Oh well – nothing else but eat and shop for souvenirs to do here anyway :).

November 22. In the morning I was on the mission: to use up the under-water camera that we bought yesterday… It took me forever to get the 27 pictures, but I hope some of them worked, although obviously the colors and quality will be questionable underwater without proper equipment :). We decided to not go back to Male in the morning, because the ferry from Maafushi  leaves around 7am (there is a passing-by ferry around 1pm, but it operates only on some days). Our flight was past 4pm and we would have been stuck on Male for half a day for no good reason instead of enjoying one more day at the beach…

The beach

So we had to agree to the expensive speedboat transfer, but at least we had an extra day on the beach and we also decided to have some lobster (because some of our group and one lovely lady we met never tried them) on the beach.

The last lunch…

HUG!!! 🙂

Thus came to a closure our lovely vacation on the Maldives and we moved on to Sri Lanka for the congress… But that, children, is a whole different story :).

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Today’s hot vacation: The anti-tour (originally written by STEPHIE PAHLAVI ZAN)

Of the many ways Facebook has changed our lives, one of the more frustrating is how quickly it can take the shine off your best vacations. Thanks to album shares and instant photo uploads, it’s now much easier to see just how many of your extended circle have also, say, posed at the same overlook you did in Machu Picchu or spent July bodysurfing at the beach. The trips might always have been a little routine, but now it’s painfully obvious.

The latest trend in the travel world aims to help vacationers hold on to their bragging rights. A growing number of companies are offering “experiential travel,” trips that veer off the beaten path and focus less on seeing sights and more on having singular experiences. So, instead of trailing along with a tour group on your Mongolian trek, you might bond with a local shaman, then end your day in an exquisitely appointed yurt. Instead of eating at a top TripAdvisor pick, how about spending a few days with a celebrity chef as you explore his culinary influences? Just try finding that on your friend’s Facebook page.

Hotel companies are getting into this bigtime, with most of the luxury chains offering “local flavor” in the form of carefully crafted excursions. Travel agents have long focused on creating unique itineraries, but new companies now offer insider adventures for any budget. Even travel guides are getting into the game: Frommer’s Remix, a new website from the travel guide giant, generates an itinerary based on your destination and preferences, then sends you a custom-made book with maps centered on your hotel.

These days a new field isn’t legitimate until a tech startup enters the fray; last April, San Francisco-based Vayable launched as the “AirBnB of experiences,” offering travelers the ability to bid on unique itineraries submitted by locals (offered recently: a street-food tour of East London for $55 per person). The company now has some 10,000 registered users and lists 2,000 experiences — and last year teamed up with AirBnB to offer unique itineraries to AirBnB renters.

With all the options, there’s something for every travel need — and every budget. From mini-indulgence to a once-in-a-lucky-lifetime splurge, here are three ways to break free of the everyone-else-was-there-too blahs.

On a budget

The average traveler can scour travel magazines and poll word of mouth for the best local ideas, but that takes time and connections. A new New York company, Fortnighter, offers a fix by creating individualized itineraries written by professional travel writers. Fortnighter taps into a pool of some 100 freelance writers from the likes of the New York Times and Condé Nast Traveler, who put together three-, five-, or seven-day plans for trips anywhere in the world for prices ranging from $135 for a one- to three-day trip to $320 for seven-plus days. Users fill out an online form to indicate their interests, specifying everything from early-bird or night-owl tendencies to specific cuisine preferences.

The itineraries can range from a couple of days (a recent mission: Fill in the free time around a wedding in Chennai, India, with cool local activities and a day trip to nearby Mahabalipuram) to several weeks. One client asked the company to structure a three-week road trip through New Zealand. He had heard of caves full of mesmerizing glowworms but didn’t know any details, so Fortnighter’s writer did the research, tracked down an outfitter to escort him through the caves, and found hotels for 10 stops along the way.

The downside: Once Fortnighter hands over the itinerary in a slick PDF, you’re on your own to book the options you find most appealing. Still, a customized vacation without spending endless hours sifting through websites and travel magazines can be priceless.

Hotel-based

Staffers at One&Only Resorts can create unique experiences on the spot, like a beachside dinner in Mauritius or excursions from its property in Dubai.

If you want a rich experience but prefer to base your trip around your cushy hotel, many resorts are beefing up their abilities to deliver unique experiences both on and off their premises. The pioneer here is One&Only Resorts, the upscale hotel collection (rates start at $725 a night) with seven properties scattered from Mexico to Dubai (an eighth is under construction in China). At each location, the staff is empowered to create a “One&Only moment” when the opportunity presents itself. If a guest mentions something like a favorite song, drink, color, or food, the staff do their best to, say, play the song or make the dish appear at dinner. “We understand the importance of the unexpected when it comes to creating a memory,” says CEO Alan Liebman, and it’s “something that can’t be sacrificed at the expense of corporate red tape.”

One group of visitors to the company’s Cape Town property wanted to explore the region’s food and wine, so the managing director called on local celebrity chef Reuben Riffel, who had just joined the resort as executive chef, to lead a five-day culinary tour with top-ranked sommelier Luvo Ntezo. (The excursion costs were on top of the hotel bill.) They traced Riffel’s culinary history and visited the producers, markets, vineyards, and restaurants that inspired his latest cookbook. On the last night Riffel and his wife hosted a special dinner paired with rare wines from a nearby cult-favorite vineyard (the winemaker joined, of course). As they’d say in Afrikaans, Gesondheid (Cheers!).

Sky’s the limit

Based on a True Story arranges unique experiences, such as sleeping in a camp above Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, or taking a private dogsledding tour in Finland.

Are you royalty? A billionaire? Just sell your tech startup? Based on a True Story could be for you. Founded by British entrepreneur Niel Fox, this Europe-based outfit organizes just a handful of trips each year, but each one is a wish-fulfillment bonanza.

So what do you get when you hand over the AmEx black card and ask for the moon? Imagine a cast-iron canopy bed perched on the edge of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, or a custom-built igloo complex, complete with a hot tub and champagne chilling in the walls, awaiting the arrival of your Finnish dogsledding team. Wherever you go, you’ll get all-private transport — jet, yacht, you name it — plus a professional photographer cum tour guide who accompanies you, shooting the footage for the book that will arrive after your return home.

This kind of treatment will cost you — most trips run in the six-figure range or more, though the company has on occasion arranged weekend trips for less — but the experiences truly can border on magical. (One group of travelers had no idea where they’d be exploring until their private plane touched down and all their phones lit up, saying, WELCOME TO INDIA!) While travel within Myanmar has been limited by the government, Fox has arranged several journeys through the country’s rich landscape. One group recently enjoyed a dinner among the temples of Bagan while a monk read their fortunes, then helped them release birds to set the plans in motion. Other travelers, on safari in South Africa, were enjoying a bonfire after dinner when they suddenly found themselves surrounded by the sound of tribal drums. After a brief pause a battle cry shot out, and hundreds of Zulu tribespeople charged down and staged a battle in front of the stunned tourists.

Fox won’t name his clients. “No one knows who we work for, and it will always stay that way,” he says. But royal families and billionaires seem to have him on speed dial. Better start saving now – or cross your fingers for that buyout.

 

 

 

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Croatia 2012 and a series of un/fortunate events

Every big picture is made up of the smaller details, right? Well, Croatia was definitely one hell of a patchwork of small, fairly insignificant events, random acts of un/kindness by both friends and strangers, unforeseen inconveniences and absolutely great times :). If it sounds vaguely manic-depressive in spirit – it’s because it pretty much was! Pictures will be up in the gallery very soon, I swear!

It is year 2012 and the end is nay – that is, the end of the summer. I set off in the direction “airport” to be then transported inside a big, hollow, metal cigar-like thingy with wings in the direction “Croatia”. Specifically – Split. I am there one day before the beginning of the Salsa Beach Splash Festival (read their webpage – it’s an overall great piece of fun literature :D). This would be my fourth trip to the country and my first visit to the city.

Someone has written me on CouchSurfing three days prior to my departure that they would be happy to host me when I arrive to the city – and asking when I will be there and how many people are with me… That I have written that I travel alone and my arrival/departure dates in the original post must have escaped that person’s attention. So did the fact that it could help to actually login back to CouchSurfing to check for an answer any time since writing me a warm potential welcome note…

Day 1, July 23, Split: (un)welcome to Croatia

Airport… Arrivals… Lengthy hang-out at the passport control finally over, I grab my suitcase from the belt, withdraw some Kunas and exit into the midday heat. The Croatia Airlines shuttle driver is trying hard to persuade me into taking a ride, but I ask him where the local bus stop is. He insists the shuttle is better – it may well be all that and 10 minutes faster, but it is also 2,5 times pricier, I say. He gets irritated and waives me off in the general direction of “further away from the airport” with the meta-specific directions of “down” at my yet another attempt to ask where the local bus stop is.

The only thing visibly “down” from the city shuttle stops is a parking lot at the right hand side and a round-about with some minor roads and no sidewalks… I encounter two Czech girls who are equally confused about the location of the stop. One of them is wearing a pendant that I can’t quite see under her scarf but really want to because it looks like a very intricate snake or lizard of a sorts – I like snakes :).

I recall that the airport roof is visible from the bus stop but that it’s not right next to it, so we walk further down to the main road and then see “it”. The girls are going the opposite direction so we say our goodbyes and I wait around a bit till bus 30 shows up. I’m in no hurry and enjoy the journey with many stops and one of the passengers on the front seat happily chatting with the driver for most of the way.

I swap to bus 9 at the local bus terminal to arrive at the Marina port. It takes forever because we are stuck in traffic but in reality it is just a few minutes away. Well, here I am…

I spot a pizza shop and buy a slice, walk a bit up and down then come back to try and check whether my presumed host replied to me. The pizza shop has a computer with internet access that is granted once you drop coins into the machine under it. I have exactly 3 Kuna in coins – just enough internet time to check the message and reply if needed. I drop 2 Kuna in, the computer unlocks and… isn’t working. The keyboard isn’t reacting to anything. I ask for some help and one of the girls behind the counter eventually comes, tries a load of times to press any buttons, none of which help, and eventually restarts the computer. It’s an old machine, you can imagine how long that takes.

Once rebooted, the computer all of a sudden recognizes it has a keyboard and what is the proper manner in which to react to the key strokes. I throw in my last Kuna because I know that the time was ticking while the girl was trying to press the buttons, log in to my CS account, see that the “happy to host you when you get to Croatia” person still hasn’t even logged back in since writing me, and begin to type a message to post in the group for an emergency couch request – just in case. What I don’t expect, however, is for the computer to log me off (without a warning, mind you, as most such systems would normally have – like “you have 1 minute left, would you like to extend your session?” type) mid-way to pressing the “submit” button on the post…

The girl who restarted the computer has vanished. An older woman has appeared and the girl who initially served me the pizza is still there. I say “excuse me, why did this stop working?”, as I presumed the time ticker would be switched OFF while the computer was, well, off (rebooting). I am ignored. I get a bit closer to them and ask them whether they know why the time has run out so quickly. They say I should put in more coins. I tell them I don’t have any coins but I wonder if there is something they can do to unlock the stupid thing for like 30 seconds so I can simply finish my post and hit “submit”. I am being ignored again. I ask a few times what should I do and would I remain logged in to my account (which is unsafe in principle, although CS made a smart move in forcing and auto-logout of all idle sessions of several minutes) and how can I finish my message. I am treated with less attention than the spider web in the far upper corner.

Commandment number 1: thy shall not mess with me when I am tired and hungry.

I raise my voice. After all, a fucking simple “oh, we’re sorry, it seems the timer runs independent of whether the computer is on or off – it’s not the system we actually run… Would you like to exchange some bills for the coins so you can finish?” is all I really expect from the get-go, but this? This is shitty. The older woman finally notices that I exist and starts trying to tell me off, to go away and stop bothering them. Younger one all the while only managed a mumble and a mild shoulder raise. Fine then, I think, you want a scene – you get a scene. I significantly increase the pitch and make sure people walking by outside also hear me inquiring why the timer keeps running when the computer is OFF. The woman starts to threaten me with police. Tough luck – I start demanding her to call the police myself. I am being ignored again, despite the loud voice. I wish I had a local police number – just to give them shit for being assholes. I try to ring the Vodafone infoline to get the number but they’ve changed it since I bought my sim card and it no longer is the info number.

I go outside, walk up to two bus drivers standing there chatting, apologize and ask them where I can find the police (I mean hey – it was HER idea, right?). The younger guy asks me what’s wrong. I said they run an internet service in the pizza shop where you pay for something you don’t necessarily receive anything from. As in, you throw coins in, computer isn’t working, then the timer keeps running while it’s switched off rebooting. He walks into the pizza shop with me and asks them in Croatian why is it such a silly system, etc.

Note: I understand perfectly well it’s an external service to the pizza shop, some other company is in charge of the computer, they probably know less about it than I do and it’s none of their responsibility and business to bother. BUT. But it IS a paid service offered on THEIR premises and the very fucking least I as a customer can expect is an apology for the damned thing not working and eating my coins. Although a good business owner would simply walk up and throw in an extra 1 or 2 Kuna from the tips jar into the stupid machine. Had they done it, I would have ordered a coffee there too :).

But no. So here I am with the bus driver, who is reminiscing calmly with them in Croatian that it is, indeed, a rather silly system with this timer thing running on a computer while it’s off… I think the women are irritated by me enough by that point, so the younger one asks me how much I put in. I said I had 3 Kunas but the ticker wasted 1 Kuna worth of timer on reboot – not counting the first few minutes of playing with non-responsive keyboard that I am willing to forget about (mind you, this is a mindblowing sum of 1/7,4th of a Euro… Ahem… Aka in this shop as “5 minutes of online time”. Oh and yes I’d be happy to actually at least try to post the message on the board, but that has become a tangential objective by now). She finally shoves a 5 Kuna coin into my hand and, as I start turning back towards the evil machine, tells me to go to a different internet shop down the street.

I follow the advice. It’s a more pricy joint but there is no drama. I log in, post the board message (skipping ahead: to which no one ever replies 😉 ), and then go ahead book the cheapest available hostel that I find good reviews about and which is just a few minutes away from the pier and dead in the old city center (Hostel Sunseekers, Poljana Stare gimnazije 1 21000, Split Croatia, +385 91 291 2127), drag myself there, shower, change and walk around the city a bit. At the Marjan hill I decide that going all the way up and around is just too much work and descend.

I meet a few cool people at the hostel to compensate for the initial unfriendly ones. The hostel receptionist even waited a few minutes past his time to leave till I ran downstairs to grab some food in the middle of the night because something was going on with the downstairs lock and I couldn’t open it. Day 1 fades into the night…

Day 2, July 24, Split to Sibenik/Solaris: let it rain

I pack – my own stuff and the three books I picked up from the hostel book bank – and chill out in the common area of the hostel until the time that I need to set off in the direction of Split airport. This time I get bus 37 and the airconditioner is so strong that even though I take out my sweater, I still freeze.

The bus driver is well aware that I need to get to the airport. There aren’t that many people on the bus and I buy the ticket directly from him. However, when the bus arrives at the stop, it takes me a bit of time to wheel my suitcase out – since I have to avoid running it over the other people’s feet. By the time I am at the door, the driver looks in the INNER mirror directly at me, closes the fucking door and drives off. I am so stunned for that crucial second that it doesn’t even occur to me to shout at him to open the door and let me out…

The next bus stop is about 1km off in direction of Sibenik… I get off there thinking I might walk back to the airport, but it starts to rain – slightly at first, then turning into a serious downpour… My laptop is in my bag and getting it soaked isn’t on the top of my to do list, so I stand on the bus stop and wait. I text my friends to let them know that if I am not at the airport in time, they can pick me up there at the corner. About 15 or 20 minutes later I see some other bus eventually show up and flag-stop it. Even though I already have a ticket that is still valid, they try to make me pay full fare for going one stop to the airport because it is a “private bus”. I decide that I can put those 2,5 Euros for better use, tell them I am missing my flight and I have spent all my local money already. They are disappointed but let me off and I make it to the airport well ahead of time. The same bus with the driver who didn’t let me out pulls up to the stop just a few seconds later… Had I known its terminal in Trogir was so close by, I would simply ride it there and back again and avoid the rain and the hustle… Oh well…

The flight is slightly delayed and then it takes the usual forever at the passport control, but finally everyone arrives and we set off towards Sibenik.

Unpacking, dinner, shower, a bit of chilling with “Before I go to Sleep” (pretty great in its own way with a few twists you just can’t see coming, especially towards the end), and here comes the very first party of the week. I forgot to pick up my pass t the registration desk,  but somehow get in :). Already there are quite a few people who made it here, but I have been out of the salsa scene for such a long time (I am forever a slave to Zouk now 🙂 ) that I’m finding it hard to be feeling the groove. The music also seems to me rather uninspiring overall and a bit too Cuban for an event where everyone dances linea… I’m wondering what the rest of the week will bring…

I run into one of my friends at the party. They are staying somewhere in Bradarice and also one extra day after the festival. At this point I am still unsure about where I will be staying on the 31st of August myself, as I am trying to make sure it will be near the airport. I say that out loud and contemplate that I can either leave my things somewhere for the night and finish some stuff up online or see if I can find a place, when I am interrupted by “we are full!”…

First of all, am I fucking ASKING for anything? Not as far as I am aware! I am just giving a general update to someone who is supposedly a friend of mine on the current state of affairs – as in, information sharing. So fuck you right back, dear. Second of all, I wouldn’t want to stay near Sibenik anyway because it is way too far from the airport – my plan is to see if I can find a place in Split again or somewhere else nearby. Your fully booked premises in Bradarice don’t qualify for “near the airport”, don’t fucking worry. Lastly, I know you’re someone without any innate empathy and social skills, but for the future: there are WAYS you can convey the same message that would NOT make you sound like an absolute fucking asshole. Maybe next time you can try saying something like “Oh, I’m sure there will be something you can figure out. I’d offer you to join us for the night but the apartment is already full, unfortunately.”

Sometimes I am amazed at how insensitive and mean and inconsiderate people may be – and we’re not talking strangers here… Maybe I am the weird one? In my background and upbringing, helping people out or at least treating them decently and, if needed, refusing them in ways that would not make them feel like they are a piece of shit to you is the norm, not the other way around…

Day 3, July 25, Solaris: Zouk made me lose my jagger?

Day 1 at the beach – yesss!!! Finally some heat and proper sunshine! Kicking the day off with some shisha on the beach may not be everyone’s idea of a good morning, but it sure works for me :). So here I am, fulfilling the daytime agenda of this trip: grilling myself on the local pebbles nearby the HotSpot. Must say that the music there is by far superior to party #1. I finish the book at the beach…

Party number 2 (to which I get still without the pass, which I, once again, forget to pick up during the festival desk opening hours) makes me start thinking that I might have lost my salsa jagger beyond redemption since I got hypnotized by Zouk about 3 years ago – most of the music just doesn’t get me any more! Oh-oh, did I arrive to Croatia only to discover I can no longer find the joy in what used to be so much fun just a few years ago? To think of it – I was frequenting Salsa congresses more often than fast food joints (well, maybe not more often – it’s hard to beat the number of my visits to my favorite KFC 🙂 ) only a short while ago, and now I can’t get in the groove? Then the morning slowly approaches and some better tunes come up and manage to touch a few strings still fine-tuned to salsa in my heart and I realize that not everything is yet hopelessly lost… But it is all over before this hint of a feeling reaches any level of certainty and it’s time to go sleep…

Day 4, July 26, Solaris to Razyne: end of convenience

Completely throwing my plans, budget and mood off, a few things go amiss and I have to change my location for the rest of the festival. The only reasonably priced place that is not fully booked that I discover is hostel Vijur, marked as 45 minutes away walking distance from Solaris resort. I call to reserve the room. Shuttle party buses don’t go there. I wonder how I will ever transport my luggage…

I decide to walk there without all the stuff after the beach and the dinner. At one of the intersections that I thought was the one I needed (judging by google directions/map I sort of scrambled by hand in a notebook), after walking back and forth a bit around it, I decide to double check where I am going. One of the apartments for lease features “information” sign on it and signs of human presence. I walk up the stairs and someone suggests me to ring the bell. The owner comes out – a man by the looks of his well into the fifties and well into the local wines. I ask him about a street name but he doesn’t know. His friend comes by and has a smarter phone than mine (well, at this point I think any phone is smarter than the one I have :D). We look at the map and I realize google failed to show me this particular intersection and the one I need is further on.

Miki (the owner) invites me for a glass of Coke (original invitation was for something stronger, but I declined). I say I came for the festival and, well aware how “highly” many people in the region think of Russians, that I am Czech. Turns out several other people stay at his place for the festival. We have a nice chat and I finally set off for the rest of the journey. I have to call a couple of times to make sure I’m going the right way, especially because at one point I need to walk through what seems to be the middle of nothing inhabited, but I finally make it to the hostel, albeit with a nasty blister on my right heel – simply perfect for dancing :).

A Croatian guy is sitting outside with the receptionist – it turns out he is also there for the festival. We arranged to meet downstairs after shower/rest and walk to the party together. It turns out he knows a shortcut, so we arrive there within roughly half an hour. We also agree to get a taxi back and split the cost. He has a local taxi number – several times cheaper than hotel taxi would be for just two people. By this night I finally start having a good time and the music is much better tonight, too, but I am tired and we leave around 3:30am.

Day 5, July 27, Solaris/Sibenik: rock that city

Walking to the resort in  midday heat feels like crossing a minor desert. That, and there is much more traffic threatening to run you over during the day as you walk along the road with no sidewalks on it. But I make it. I need to find out a way to avoid walking back and forth during the day as much as possible – it’s just too bloody hot and asphalt-saturated air is hard to breathe… At least I can shower and change at my friend’s room without having to walk back and forth!

After the dinner and the shower I go to ask about buses to Sibenik city center – there should be an open air concert there tonight. They say the bus had just left but it is possible to take a taxi. One other guy from the festival is there, too. He wants to go even though it costs 130 Kuna (around 20$). I’m thinking if it’s a tenner per person I’d just skip the whole event – I need to watch my money because I don’t have much left on the card. Fortunately, a few other people arrive and, since the taxi is a minibus, we are now 7 and can share the cost so that it adds up to roughly the same price as the shuttle that we had missed. Off we go then.

Things are still in the process of being set up when we arrive. I wander off to search for an ATM nearby and see a little bit of the city. Then finally the band comes on and, after a long sound check, plays a song and gets off stage… They come back a bit later on and play a set. Then there are shows, then more of the band and social dancing. It is great fun at the square :).

At the end of the concert I see some more people from Prague. They arrived to Croatia by car. Since there is space, they offer to get back to Solaris together. First, however, we walk off to see if they can find somewhere to buy some beer or something. We run into a local who tells us everything is closed in Sibenik, and it’s a depressive place where you work and don’t get paid, walks with us till he gets to his flat and we part ways. So we start walking to the parking lot, passing the bus station, where we see some sandwich shop open. I want to buy an orange Tonic and take one out of the fridge, but then I see a vending machine in the hallway 5 meters away. I get there – one bottle costs 7 Kuna. It’s 15 at the shop. I ask Marian if he has any coins – he’s got 3 and I have 4, so I drop them into the machine and press the button. Two bottles fall out. I’m not sure why I find it funny but I do :).

We then finally make it to the parking lot and get to the party. It is almost midnight, but people just about begin showing up – seems like many of them have gone to the city. From this night on, however, I am back: the music is great and the dancers are even better. It helped that they played enough cha-cha-cha and had a few equally in-love-with-it crazy men at the party, too – it got my blood pumping every time. I can’t begin to list all of the amazing people I dance with for the rest of the weekend, but it’s an absolute ball! I even had a chance to dance some Zouk in the second room with Jahoda from Prague and someone else from somewhere else :D.

The walk back to the hostel is actually pretty relaxing without all the heat…

Day 6, July 28, Solaris: random acts of whatever

I keep missing the hostel receptionists because I leave after they leave during the day and come back in the middle of the night when no one is there yet, so I decide to leave a note and payment for the room in the office near the computer and pick up change later on when I check out. I stick the note through the opening in the reception window and put the money inside. Hopefully, no one from the outside will think anything of it and the intended recipient – the lovely evening receptionist – will get everything when she arrives. I write her that I will see if I can find accommodation in Trogir for the 31st and if I manage, I’d check out that day and collect the change but if not, I’d stay at the hostel for one more night.

My friend #1 tells me that I can no longer shower in the room. That after I already take my stuff with me to change into after the beach… Well, THAT sure helps… Not… I mean, never mind that I live about 30-40 minutes away… Later on at the HotSpot I see someone else I know from Prague. I ask if I could shower and change there before the party and it seems to be no problem. If I can do that for the rest of the festival, then only walking to Solaris once during the day and back to the hostel in the morning is manageable.

The party is picking up the pace – it seems more people have arrived just for the weekend alone, so there is more action in both the main and the 2nd room. Speaking of the 2nd room – at one point of the night they began playing MJ and other disco music and quite a few teachers went there and began to show off their skills. It was absolutely mad fun and great fitness! 🙂 🙂 :).

Best crazy part of the party begins when I decide to go back and change the shoes… Some great music comes up, then some more and then some more… Next thing you know it is past 6am and the party is officially over, the remaining few insane dancers are laughing their heads off and there is little time left for sleeping :).

I finally set off to walk back and guess who I see in the street picking up fresh bread delivery when I get to the junction that I got confused at the first time? Miki the apartment owner. He again invites me over for a drink and offers to drop me off at the hostel. Since I already spent much of my sleep time on going loco on the dance floor, it is an offer I can hardly refuse. More than that, he insists I call him when I wake up and he’d give me a lift from the hostel to the junction. I think I asked about 10 times if he’s sure it is okay, but given that he earlier told that all he does all day is sit around, talk with friends who pass by, eat, drink and do nothing much else, I can see he may be bored enough to actually welcome a 10 minute car trip…

Back at the hostel I find a place to stay at in Trogir and leave another note letting them know I won’t be staying there on the 31st. Then I shower and pass out.

Day 7, July 29, Solaris: pool party

To which I pretty much do not make it. I manage to forget my towel and my dancing shoes at the hostel today, and while Miki was kind enough to drive me back to pick up the shoes, I still forgot about the towel – great… Oh and he also kept asking me if I will drop by in the evening so that we can spend some time together because he really likes me… Sure, it is in fact my most cherished wild fantasy to come for a rendez-vous with a well-withered man old enough to be my dad instead of going to the festival that I actually paid for and enjoying the company of much more exciting individuals! Of course! Thank you for picking me up, Miki, but please next time leave your excessively pink shades at home where they belong… Sigh… Guess it’s more walking around now :).

I find a patch of grass instead of pebbles nearby the pool bar and get working on my tan there. Nothing against the party, but I want to get dark :). Some time later a Croatian man strikes up a conversation with me. He gets us coffees and says he may also be going to Trogir on Tuesday and can offer to drive me along.  It’s good to know, but we’ll see how everything really plays out.

I get to the pool party around 6pm, enjoy a bit of tossing the ball around, some Rueda, a bit of dancing and then go to dinner. We later watch a pretty cool film at my friend’s room, I’ve seen it before but it’s been a while. It’s where a woman (biology teacher) gets kidnapped because her husband accidentally filmed cops killing some people, and manages to dial a random guy’s cellphone from an apparatus left broken in the attic where she is held…

The party, yet again, is great fun. And just as before, I end up staying till the very end, fooling around with the last survivors and getting myself tossed around by some crazy man :). I mean, what better to do at 6am than some lifts and acrobatic tricks, right? 😀

Day 8, July 30, Solaris: the last Salsa survivors

In the morning Indy invites me and Jacky to join for breakfast. I’m not even hungry because I had a sandwich earlier that night, but it’s good to have a cup of tea and a pastry :). Hotel staff probably stopped trying to keep track of Salsa people by then. We then all 3 decide to go into the room and sleep – which is great because I won’t have to walk anywhere – but Indy, positioned in the middle of the bed, keeps turning around and waking me up. At around noon I get so annoyed at constantly waking up that I leave and go to sleep on the grass. Since I don’t have my sunscreen with me, I end up slightly more cooked than I hoped for on one side, but it’s not too bad and in the end of the trip I even it out :).

I simply chill there all day and then, after the dinner, get back to the hostel, shower, change and make it to the very last party of the week. It’s awesome but the floor is long dead by now. Next year they should really make sure it is secured better, and if I do make it there, I WILL this time bring my own supply of baby powder because DAYMN was it sticky the last couple of days, too!!!

And then it’s over… A load of amazing dances and great fun behind me… The sun is up, final pictures are taken and it is time to say the goodbyes… If all goes well, I hope to make it again next year! As for now, it was time to pack up and get ready to go to Trogir…

Day 9, July 31, Razyne to Trogir: best after-party day ever!

 The morning receptionists (whom I see for the first time of my stay) ask me when I play to leave the hostel (I already checked out and am waiting for a text from some other people who also were going to Trogir). I tell them I’m waiting to hear from my friends but they are keeping mum. They say they need to leave to the city and will have to lock the building, so I won’t be able to leave afterwards. I decide that maybe the others won’t be going and say I’d then go ahead set off towards the city. The lovely ladies offer to drop me off at the bus station in Sibenik, which is awesome because I won’t have to drag my suitcase and bag around! Thank them both so very much!

I arrive to the station, get a ticket and wait. Some festival survivors are also there, going somewhere else. Next thing I know the people who were planning to go to Trogir show up – turns out they ran out of credit. We all board the bus and enjoy the picturesque ride along the beautiful Croatian coastline to the city of Trogir :).

Once there, we can’t decide where to stay. I booked a hostel, but they want to stay at an apartment. We first take a taxi to a beach area and try to find a place there, but it doesn’t work, so we take a shuttle boat back to the city center (which has some Salsa playing, so of course we dance a bit 🙂 ) and manage to find a place right nearby that ends up in a similar price range as the hostel. We drop the bags, get our swim gear and take another boat to another beach. First stop is at a cafe for an ice coffee, then we finally start walking along the coast, trying to find a spot. It’s all taken, occasionally by nudists, and in the end we get to a little bay that seems to have all the rubbish in the area collected on the shore. Plus it is in the shadow – exactly NOT what we were looking for… But oh well, it’s swim-time anyway, so we pass the rubbish to the clean water and go swimming. Of course, without the swimsuits – that’s the whole idea :).

Later on we dry off and start walking back. We pass an older man getting some ‘special attention’ from a pretty young guy in one of the rocky enclaves… Oh well – whatever makes them happy :).

There is Salsa playing at the first bar on the promenade. Ilker and Anna mark the spot by dancing there a bit, then we move on. The next pit-stop happens to be at the fig trees – we gather pretty much everything we can reach and have a fig feast. I’m sure a load of people are looking at us going “those crazy tourists!”, but we’re just having too much fun to really care. Finally, we end up at a restaurant by the water for an awesome fish and meat dinner – really amazing cooking! Mmmm!!! The sun slowly goes down and we manage to pay just in time to make it to the boat set back for the city.

Once back, we pay for the accommodation and go to walk around Trogir a bit. The city center is tiny, with a few restaurants, cafes, late night bars, shops and ice cream places. We wander around a bit, get lost (boys lose girls :)), then found, then finally get back to the apartment and crash.

Day 10, August 1, Trogir to Split airport to Prague: all good things come to an end

While Naz and I were packing downstairs, our good fairies went out and brought some breakfast material for us all! Naz and Ilker had a flight 30 minutes before mine, so we all went to the airport together. Anna had to go to Zadar airport, but her flight was later that evening… This is it – the end of the holiday, the final “see you later”-s… I notice while standing at check-in that there is no counter number 13… Would you really want to entrust your life to superstitious personnel? :D. Ah, the little things…

It is evening by the time I get back home in Prague. My mind is still in Croatia under the sunshine, while my body feels as if majorly jet-lagged. I rinse it off and put it into bed, right after getting a bus ticket to Zurich for tomorrow – a Zouk congress I had no hopes of attending up until a few hours ago. I absolutely need to thank my friend in Zurich a load for allowing me to stay over because it was SOOOOO much fun, but that, of course, is the subject of a whole other entry :).

Photos from the whole event keep coming up: dig them all up from the FB page here.

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Montmartre cemetery, Paris 2012

This gallery contains 81 photos.

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Homeless in Paris – sort of :).

It may be nice when everything goes according to the plan, but it usually doesn’t make an exciting tale in the end. With this in mind, I would say that the unexpected turn of events during my last trip to Paris was not, after all, such a terrible mess as it seemed to promise to be when, on the day of my planned arrival to the city, I realized I was homeless :D.

The original reason for going to Paris was one and only: I wanted to meet the crew of the “It’s on the Meter” project – guys who have set the new Guinness record for the longest taxi ride by traveling around the world in an old English cab over the course of 15 months. The reasons I wanted to meet them were linked to my own project (which is currently suspended until a few unexpected set-backs are dealt with) and I figured, back when the trip was being planned, that Paris is an ideal destination to catch up with them as I know the city, have friends there and my project partner is also in Paris. Of course, if everything had gone as planned, there would be nothing more to write…

The very first unplanned thing that happened was the disappearance of my project partner. Not physical in a ‘missing person’ sense, but virtual: she became unreachable by e-mail, Facebook, Skype, phone and telepathy. This grand mystery remains to this day unsolved, as I was unable to get in touch with her even while in Paris. That’s a crying shame for many reasons, but not really a part of this story.

The second thing that went rogue was my arrangement for a place to stay at: I was supposed to stay over at a friend’s place, but my friend unexpectedly was sent to a different country (from yet another place than Paris) for work and was thus unable to leave me the key. It didn’t help that I was due to land at 11pm… I tried contacting my friends and CouchSurfers for an emergency landing, but everyone was either away or full, so I finally set off to the airport with an expectation of a nice night in the company of a book and my laptop at the Chalres De Gaulle.

One of my friends texted me upon my late Monday night arrival and said to come to the city – their friend might have a place to crash at for the night. I took a bus, where I met some fun people from Philippines, to the city and ended up dancing in the bar for a couple of hours. My friend’s friend then left the key and directions and I got a good night’s sleep in a bed instead of the airport floor. It did go a bit wrong, since the friend came back and thought I was still sleeping and was a bit annoyed at ‘not being able to get into the room’ (as in, walking in was so impossible? Plus I wasn’t sleeping…), so I was then told by my friend to try and leave as fast as possible to not cause any further inconvenience… Maybe it’s just me, of course, but If I were a person who would let someone stay over at my place for the night in a situation like mine, I would handle it all completely differently, but whatever – all people differ, I guess they weren’t too used to having anyone ever stay over.

I left right after I checked for any messages on CouchSurfing or anyone else and went to sit on a bench in some park reading my book. Later on, the Philippines people texted me that they were going to have a dinner and invited me to join. We met up at some restaurant on Champs Elysees that had a known name but a sadly un-matching in quality food. Initially, I thought I’d occupy a spot in the McDonald’s (as long as they’d have Wifi, and/or sockets, and/or at least stayed open all night long so I could finish my book). However, my new friends have come up with the brilliant plan of taking me to the hotel where they were staying where I could finish up some pending writing in the business corner instead.

Now, at this point you may be wondering why I didn’t find some hostel for the night. Well, first of all why waste the money when I really just needed to survive one more night in the city? Second, walking around with a suitcase looking for hostels all around the place in the middle of the night was NOT my idea of a great way to pass a few hours of my life.

The business corner at the hotel was great – I was practically invisible from both the entrance and the reception areas behind the small wall that one of the computers was placed at. I put my suitcase under the table and caught up on the book, the mail, some research I needed to do and everything else that could be done online.

In the morning I put my suitcase into the hotel’s storage box (dragging it around with me all day didn’t seem like much fun) and went off to get some breakfast. I was meeting Johno from “It’s on the Meter” (Guinness record for world’s longest taxi drive) at noon a bit outside Paris. It was really great to see Hannah (the cab 😉 ) in real life, to share a short ride around and talk about making one’s dream a reality. These guys have indirectly inspired my own project back when I first heard about their plan, and it was psychologically important to meet with someone who had actually beat the odds and done what they planned to do – as a good reminder to not give up despite the set-backs…

After the meeting, I headed back to the city and discovered that the Montmartre cemetery was just next to my luggage storage spot! Since I had my camera with me, I headed there for a lovely afternoon of chasing local cats and a few shots (gallery here).

Finally, another one of my friends arrived back to the city, so I retrieved my suitcase and headed to my alternative place to crash at for the rest of my stay :). Even though the official reason for the visit was fulfilled, I initially made sure to stay a week so I can meet some of my friends and, maybe, my project partner and, maybe again, go dance some Salsa on the upcoming weekend. Of course, plans exist so that they can be altered…

Indeed, I managed to catch up with one more friend of mine on Thursday afternoon. I got an added bonus of a quick lunch and a scooter-drop-off at the bank of Senne for a walk that I felt eager to undertake on that exceptionally warm and sunny day. I started up somewhere in Gare de Lyon area, walked to Pont Neuf , then back up all the way to Montmartre and securely occupied the couch with a book I picked up from the shelf in the guest room of my friend’s place for the rest of the evening – physical activities quota for the day was more than fulfilled.

My original plan for the Friday night was to explore one of the yet unknown to me Salsa clubs I found online. However, while I was checking the news on Facebook, I noticed the names of Prague dance instructors (Carlos and Lenka) and ‘Paris’ in one of the posts. What a coincidence, thought I, and clicked. It turned out that there was actually a first Brazilian dance weekend organized in Paris on May 11-12-13! What it meant in practice was ZOUK (the Brazilian Zouk, not the French Zouk) was coming to Paris! Never thought it could happen – at least not as soon – or that I’d accidentally end up in the city on the same weekend. So I efficiently altered my plans for Salsa in favor of Zouk and set off to the middle of nowhere (more precisely, somewhere around Val de Fontenay) for an unexpected dose of my favorite dance. I only went for Friday and Saturday night parties though and they finished way too early (note to organizers: if you leave the ‘4am party end’ on the website AFTER you already know that it won’t be the case – that is totally NOT cool. Not at all.), although I got to meet a few of my dance scene friends there and got to know a couple of new really good dancers.

My friend and the guest of the Saturday evening dinner were trying to talk me into going to a cabaret with them, but I couldn’t possibly miss the Saturday party, so we settled on a different plan: they go to the cabaret and bring the girls back, I go and bring the guys, and we meet back at the apartment at 6am for the after-party :). Well, at the very least I fulfilled my obligation! It can also probably be regarded as ‘progress’: last time I brought someone homeless into the house with me it was just a kitten (incredibly cute and lovely, but I couldn’t keep her, so I found her a nice home), now it seems I’m up-grading to picking up humans from ‘the streets’ :D.

Now, before you get all excited, there’s nothing x-rated coming up (sorry!). One of the dancers had nowhere to sleep and I said if he doesn’t find anything, he’s welcome to crash on the other half of the guest room bed for the night. So the party was followed by a fun night bus ride and conversation with some other people from the event and a spontaneous chat with some random funny guy on that bus sitting near us all, trying to work out what the buzz was all about and why we were all from different countries, who, it turned out, was going to the same exact station as we were! It was great that we started talking because if he didn’t tell us where to go when we needed to quickly switch to the 2nd bus, we would’ve missed it and would have to wait another half an hour for the next!

When we finally made it to the house, my friend was awake working on some photographs and I was joking about the fact that I see no girls while I brought my share of promised humans just around the promised time of the morning, too. It turned out though that the cabaret plan was abandoned after I left, so it’s good I didn’t cave in to stick with them for the night in the first place. The brief hello’s were quickly followed by the appropriately swift crash onto the bed and long needed sleep. I presume my unplanned-for guest left early in the morning and made it to the boat trip – I’d have to ask about it, however, at another congress :D. Maybe Berlin?

On Sunday I originally planned to stop by Barrio Latino for the afternoon Salsa session but the laziness got the best of me – and that book I was reading was just way too interesting to put down :). So I left Barrio to another visit and stuck to the literature. I wasn’t going to go to the third party of the weekend either – it was due to finish at 2am, which was way too early for a good congress party and definitely not worth the trouble of getting there and the entrance fee. Besides, I had a flight to catch back to Prague. I, of course, had missed all the hot and sunny Prague weather (yet again) while in Paris, so now it is miserable and freezing (hello, you people up there regulating the weather – it is END OF MAY already, wtf?!), but hey – at least I have one more short story up my sleeve and a few new pictures of old tombs :).

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TRAIN-ed for adventures

I had hoped for a relatively boring stay in Warsaw, and I got just that (besides our quest in search of any bank or exchange office that would accept a fully torn-in-half 100$ note, which had ended in raving success: we got 70$ worth from it after a few hours of search – in Russia it would’ve been 50$). However, the journeys to and from, in line with the philosophy of the destination not necessarily being the most important part of a trip, made up for any lack of amusement! A quick glance at what happened:

On the way to Warsaw from Prague we were awaken at roughly 5am, upon crossing the Polish border. We were subsequently requested to pack up all our stuff and leave the cart, walking to the replacement cart (right next to the original one) with all our stuff… Turned out that Polish officials refused to allow this cart to proceed – possibly for technical reasons. I know nothing of trains and train safety, but the cart was kind of loud and shook more than one would expect of it, granted it was hooked right after the locomotive. Luckily, my travel companions in the coupe were positive type of people and joked the whole hustle through :). Once in a new cart (I must say it rode very smoothly, as was due, and didn’t shake side-to-side), we proceeded to climb back onto the beds and catch up on the sleep.

On the way back I experienced a different type of an ‘adventure’. I ended up alone in the coupe, and soon I wished I wasn’t. One of the passengers from next door stroke up a friendly chat. He was very happy when I said I was from Russia, because presumably our nations are very close and he likes Russian people a lot (well the part about his jacket saying “Russia” in big letters turned out to be true, indeed). He also said in the course of the conversation that unfolded that he was holding one of the official positions and dealt with political and economic representatives. He even showed me his picture with president Vaclav Klaus :).

Being the “I’m not impressed” type of a person when it comes to flashing one’s status, connections or anything similar to it, I instead form my opinion on people based on their personal merits, personality traits, and conduct. At first, he just seemed as any other kind-of-bored train passenger wishing to pass some time talking to someone else. His enthusiasm about me being Russian and also liking reading and philosophy was a bit exaggerated, I thought, but well – could have stemmed from his Southern origins.

The man said he likes cool people and prefers to be friends with them rather than hanging out with different folk he meets at work. Fair enough, thought I. He then went to change from the suit into something more comfy and came back. This is where, as it turned out, the ‘adventure’ was meant to begin – for him.

I guess he decided that I was conveniently enough alone, of a convenient age, not too ugly (questionable conclusion, granted how beaten up I managed to look that evening 😀 ) and of pretty low IQ :). Or something similarly enticing… Maybe he thought flashing his pictures with the Czech President et al was bound to either impress me enough, or to activate my inner gold-digger… (tough luck on both…). In either case, he insisted he was very interested in being ‘friends’, except judging from the fact that he didn’t wait too long before bragging about his massage skills (and offering me one, of course, swearing to god it’d be “very nice”), moving to sit closer to me and putting his hand around me, I figured out that my initial ‘way too friendly’ radar reading was spot-on and his idea of ‘friendship’ differed from the commonly accepted definitions of thereof… Even if all that wasn’t happening, it was enough that one of his first questions to me was whether I have a boyfriend (I just said all the positions are currently taken), followed by a generous offer from his side to become one, because (you guessed it) “it will be nice” and “you will like it”, as well as “I am not like the others” (damn, do all such men read the same freaking “how to pick up a dumb chick” manual or what? 😀 Seriously 😀 )… I was presented with his business card and even invited to his hotel upon arrival (for breakfast and a chat… I said I’d go sleep when I get back, he said I could sleep in his hotel, I asked him why… His answer indicated he also had a very different definition of ‘breakfast and a chat’ than is commonly accepted 😀 ), and to his home country any time :).

Unfortunately (for him), all I wanted was  to have him move his hands back where they belonged. I also asked him how many times of saying “no” does it take to get the message across to the recipient. I must give him some credit though, for, despite being slightly under influence, he cooled off a bit and said if he made me uncomfortable he could leave. I said I wanted to sleep and yes, him leaving was the right thing to do at that point, so I nodded to that offer.

He went to his coupe, saying he might drop in later to talk some more, I nodded and once he left locked the door and went to sleep.

He came back a few minutes later and knocked, then tried the door – I played dead. When I woke up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, I thought he’d be asleep by then. When I was just about to return, however, I saw him in the corridor, knocking again! (Maybe he wasn’t lying when he said he couldn’t sleep in the train…). Fortunately, he didn’t see me, so I hid back and waited, hoping he won’t try to open the door – then he’d know I’m awake and would continue on his agenda. I let a few minutes pass, walked quietly back to my coupe and opened the door, hoping he was not inside… No one was inside (although I had initially wished for some co-traveler, who could by the mere presence make it rather difficult for my neighbor to keep trying to score a quick round with a ‘random dumb chick’), to my relief, so I locked the door again and slept the rest of the night through undisturbed…

When the train arrived to Prague, I waited for everyone to get off with the door closed. I hoped they (him and his assistant) would have been gone when I get off – they were standing instead near the cart door. Luckily, I was wrapped in my scarf, and although if he could remember my red suitcase from the night before he could easily identify me, either because he didn’t or decided not to let it show, he didn’t say anything. I simply got off and walked away, too…

This was, thus far, the end of the adventures related to the trip, and here is what  am left to say:

Dear fellow traveler: just because you hang out with presidents doesn’t mean every female traveling alone will happily suddenly transform into a common whore and offer you entertainment, become your ‘girlfriend’, go to your hotel, enjoy your massage, or whatever the fuck not else you had had in mind. Your money, position, friends, etc do not impress me, nor do they give you the right to not take “no” for an answer when it’s been repeated to you over 10 times in various explicit ways. Neither does it provide you with a license to start touching me (or any woman, for that matter), moving to sit closer and letting your hands wonder – all that AFTER I very clearly said I am NOT interested. You talked a lot about respect – well, SHOW some next time towards strangers you meet. If you truly want an honest, down to earth friend (without benefits, thank you) – holla back. If you only sought a quick random shag and talked about ‘shared interests’ not because of your genuine interest in me as a person, but as a manner of getting into my panties via express lane, tough fucking luck, mate – I’m the wrong kind of a girl to try this on.

Oh and a P.S. Note my decency of not mentioning your name, position or even country of origin: I wrote this as an advice for fellow single female travelers, and even more importantly as a reminder for the people of your kind who think they are entitled to seek taking advantage of others, for some bizarre reasons, and not as a way of a personal revenge. Neither do I judge you to be a horrible person or hold an unfavorable opinion of you. I only hold unfavorable opinion of your specific behavior in that train (including apologizing for something, then continuing doing it) – not your entire personality. Good luck in your life. I sincerely wish you well, just please treat strangers with more regard and respect next time and remember that we’re not all doormats created exclusively for your personal amusement.

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Vienna whining

Discovery of the week: that Murphy’s law is a valid and potent force in the universe had been confirmed empirically this weekend. My mother, who dropped in for a brisk visit, had the flight to and from Vienna (it was 3 times cheaper than flights to Prague), so we have decided to use the weekend and go strolling in Vienna two days before her departure. My previous trips to the city have been nothing but wonderful. I even owe the birth of this blog to my previous visit to the Austrian capital, so we have enthusiastically set off on the road. And that’s where it all began…

At first, we were delighted to occupy the front seats on the bus – they provide most space and are the warmest. Behind us sat a Vietnamese man. Behind him sat another Vietnamese man… The both of them have had something like 1h long pause in their otherwise on-going, loud conversation across the rows… They began when we were stuck in traffic for an extra hour on the D1 exit from the city and that was the end of the peace on the bus. The one right behind us had to crook his head to talk to the guy behind him. The guy behind was hanging on the chairs the whole way. At least one can seek comfort in assuming that one’d get a major neck-ache and the other’s hands would be sore… That they actually had an option to sit together didn’t occur to them in those 5 hours… True, they had some luggage with them that had been placed on the seats next to them, but placing the luggage on two seats in front of themselves and sitting together, anyone?…

But that was just the beginning, of course…

The booking site of Eurolines buses for some strange reason allows to choose the option of arrival to the Vienna airport. The reality differs, for Eurolines buses only have a station at the bus terminal in the city, where we have arrived to. Thus, together with the driver, we had to run to another bus destined to Bratislava that stopped at the airport on the way. The bus was full of Italian guys. One of them got extremely upset that the bus was departing 25 minutes later (our bus driver, while en-route, called the one going to Bratislava to wait for him and passengers. As we understood, he lives in Bratislava and that was the last bus going there). Initially I presumed they needed the airport and were in a hurry. The brisk verbal exchange between the upset guy and our bus driver almost turned into a fist-fight, but 5 other guys rushed to the front of the bus and stopped the madness.

Once at the airport, we counted on a free shuttle to the hotel, as advertised on the booking website. There was a shuttle, but it wasn’t free. Neither was there anything available to eat at the hotel at this time, despite the description including 24h food facilities. We had some of our own food with us though, luckily, so dinner was sorted and we finally could rest. If you’re wondering why we were staying near the airport – my mom’s flight was early in the morning on Sunday and staying elsewhere would have meant getting up several hours ahead and dragging the suitcase around…

The night was in its prime and the sleep was sound… That is, up until the baby came into the picture… Somewhere in our wing or on our floor was a baby. Babies, as is a known fact, cry at random times. In a sense, that would not have been a problem if the baby cried. Except, THIS particular baby didn’t cry – it SCREAMED. It screamed as if it had been put onto a frying pan! I’ve heard a fair deal of crying babies and I was really concerned about this one’s well-being, so I hope it was fine and just had a very peculiar manner of crying. Nevertheless, the baby repeated the screaming a few times at random throughout the night, sort of sending the dreams of a solid night’s rest down the drain.

On Saturday we walked around the city. We started off by discovering that it wasn’t the battery that died in my mom’s favorite watch but the mechanism itself, proceeded to a dinner at the Chinese restaurant, walked through the city center and finally closed the stroll by eating the Sacher cake yet again. Of course one can buy a whole cake at the store, but it’s hard to eat the entire thing in just a few days of its lifespan and the ambience of having had one at the original Sacher hotel would be lost, too. Besides, it makes for a funky tradition :).

This is where we split. I went to a friend’s birthday party and mom went back to the hotel to pack. At the party, I helped tie the balloons and pretty much single-handedly made a mega d.i.y. twister – see below.

Probably the hardest part was cutting out the fabric circles with extremely dull scissors…

My hands were covered in glue, but the good thing about it was that it wasn’t super glue, so I got it off of my hands pretty easily. On the other hand. I still have some fabric glue on my jeans…

Twister-making: the original (to my right) and the d.i.y. version 🙂

However, as the fortune has it, I had no chance to ever try the game out. I only had the time for the live music and a dance.

Shortly after, I needed to catch a train to the airport and the last one was leaving before midnight, which is when the party was really starting…

Of course, expecting a smooth journey back was a mistake. The last train simply never came at all, although it was marked on the schedule. I’ve gotten to Wien Mitte instead and had to take a taxi, which was an unpreviewed expense… The option of going back to the party was there, too, but I was very tired and I also had to sort out a few final things with mom…

Once at the hotel and done with everything, I was really looking forward to a good night’s sleep… Unfortunately, the Vietnamese people (not the two guys from the bus 🙂 ) that inhabited the hotel didn’t think it was a great idea to let people sleep at night. Around 3:30 in the morning there began loud rolling of suitcases, loud conversations in the hall, loud laughter. First I thought some party people were drunk coming back to the hotel and having a buzzed-out laugh.

My level of noise tolerance is pretty high – we have neighbors with little kids right upstairs where I live, but everything has its limits. When 1.5 hours later the ceaseless loud chatter outside had still been at full volume, I finally got up off the bed, opened the door to see the Vietnamese (I can tell Vietnamese language apart, in case you’re wondering how I’m so sure about that 🙂 ) inhabitants talk to each other loudly from one end of the hall to the opposite end, some standing talking to someone with doors open and similarly respectful behavior. They acted as if they were the only living humans in the entire universe! With all due respect, but other people have just the same paid the same money (or more, as I’m sure they got a group discount rate) to get some rest. Some people, like the man we shared the shuttle ride with upon arrival, travel for more than 24 hours, have maybe 5 hours at most to rest and then another flight. Some people have children with them. Being so bleeping loud at any hotel at all, let alone at an airport hotel, is beyond any notion of inconsiderate! If they wanted to talk, they could do it behind closed doors, for crying out loud. I was so pissed off I point blank told them to “shut the fuck up”. I doubt they understood the English, but they must’ve gotten the tone. I had to get out twice more in those 5 minutes, but that made them finally lower down their voices.

However, due to time change, it was already around 5.30am and our wake-up time was 7am…. a.k.a. ‘completely sleepless night’.

At 7 we pumped up on the coffee and mom set off to the airport. I showered, packed my stuff and went to offer the house-cleaning services to the b-day party host. The three of us there did the dishes and some emergency cleaning, which occupied us till around 3pm, and then I had to go to catch the bus back.

It is Monday now and the weekend is over. I just hope that Murphy’s law is no longer valid – it’s a different week and a different country :).

Posted in Austria, Vienna | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Spaced out in the Netherlands… all the way till the V-day!

Back from Paris, re-packed suitcase, then off to the Hague via Amsterdam I went… Our original plane’s pilots must have eaten some wrong kind of brownies, or maybe they had just been blown off by the strong winds in the Netherlands that evening, but in either case it turned out that I had made it to the airport well in advance for the first time in recent history completely in vain – the flight was delayed by an hour. Oh well, I just went to heaven then after checking in to wait for my fate. Eventually, I boarded the plane that was originally destined to fly to the UK, but the important part was that it made it to the final destination written on my ticket.

Netherlands. Day one – actually, evening. Train to the Hague from Schiphol. Luggage drop-off at the house then out we go – I had been cordially invited to my friend’s sister’s place for the birthday party dinner. Didn’t expect the Netherlands to welcome me with a gastronomical treat! I happily OD-ed on some delicious international food and the three kinds of cakes, washed it all down with some green tea, annoyed a lovely little girl and finally got to relax and rejuvenate. I also discovered that I had forgotten my hair dryer – not the best item to leave back home right after freshly dyeing the hair, especially any shade of red, but I’m a survivor and I made it through!

Day two – watching some of the performances (singing, dancing, acrobatics and even martial arts) at the city hall – it was the Chinese new year’s day celebration. Unfortunately, we have overslept the parade with the paper dragon and the fireworks, although it would never occur to me that those two could possibly occur any time before sundown (well, maybe I could agree to the dragon, but fireworks???), or at least at some reasonable late afternoon hours… Thus, no pictures, but I am sure you would forgive me this time.

In the evening the warm-up session for the upcoming festival had been officially kicked-off with a zouk party: I was lucky enough to arrive in time for this once-in-a-month event. I was unlucky enough to forget my safety pins, so my ultra-comfy but (sigh) strapless stretch overall kept creeping down all the time. I kind of gave up on trying to make the rim remain above instead of below the general bra level a little through the party, so I just fixed it not to fall any further than that and pretended that was exactly the style I intended to rock that night :D.

Day three: God presumably rested on the Sunday, and I sort of started the day accordingly – lest it is not by hazard that I have a PhD in procrastination – but then I finally had to buckle up for an all-night-long session of passionate…typing on the keyboard of my laptop, as I was facing the final deadline for the essay I was unable to force myself to finish in Paris, due to the fact that my mind had become over-preoccupied with the brilliant idea of mine – that which I do not speak of (ha!) until the time when I will…

This extremely un-entertaining but necessary to go through experience has kept me busy all the way into the almost monday noon, when I had finally wrapped it all up (all the 20 pages of editing and 15 of typing) and went on to amuse myself with compiling the up-date on my experiences in Paris the week ago. Then I finally retired from the living room sofa and got to sleep, only to wake up in the evening to some more chilling and procrastinating – this time well-deserved. Finally, the day had been wrapped up by a zouk workshop.

Day five started off by waiting for Godot… Godot, this specific time, was a friend of mine who currently studies in Utrecht and who promised to drop by to hang out with me (and bring a hair dryer along) around 2pm. If you know the tale, then you know what happened… (If you don’t, up-date your classics reading list 😛 ). While busy doing that, I have tortured myself by listening to 3 of the 7 parts of the interview of my absolute new hero (simply for the fact that he didn’t slap that woman on her face not just within about 25 seconds of starting to talk to her but for like over an hour in total I truly believe he deserves a monument built in his honor with some sort of stoic or patience-related inscription) Richard Dawkins with Wendy Wright (what a name! One more ‘w’ somewhere and she could well be replacing the Wicked Witch of the West, whom we dubbed ‘www’, in the script that we had written on par with my friend back when I was 12 in the summer language school at Cambridge for the Wizard of Oz Play… Oh, and it was I who did the part, of course 😀 ). I must say I was uncertain of my abilities to remain calm enough not to smash my laptop into pieces after this exemplary portrayal of distilled ignorance so I hadn’t finished watching the remaining 4 parts right away and switched to a slightly more digestible, although still profoundly disturbing, religious educational documentary. Purely for the sake of the laptop, of course.

All the while, I was checking the phone for the promised to me text message from my lovely friend who was meant to send one upon boarding the train… Up until about 4.30 pm when I had finally decided to use the rare sunshine day for picture-taking. Oh, and she wrote that she had to finish some school work so my date was off for the day… Except after having taken two or three shots of a particularly picturesque bike parking, I had realized that it was too bleeping cold for my fingers, went to the train station to get my ticket to Utrecht, aborted ‘mission photoshoot’ till better weather and returned back to the casa, stopping by the supermarket on the way – I had promised to introduce my friend to my personal version of the bachelorette ‘quick-tasty-and-filling’ dinner solution – washed my hair, dried it as well as i could with the towel, listened to yet another utterly brilliant speech by my hero and set off to do the elaborate cooking. Unfortunately, Dutch stores may have a wide array of products available but the key ingredient to success – the cheddar& mozzarella grated cheese mix – available at Prague’s Tesco stores – was lacking. The alternative cheese option turned out rather saltier and more poignant than I would ideally want it to be, so we have agreed that next time if occasion arises I would bring the proper cheese along.

Oh and if you’re wondering what the recipe is, it is absurdly simple: cook some pasta (whatever excites you the most. I like multi-colored or whole-grain versions, as they have more taste of their own); once it’s done, add olive oil (ideally. Practically any oil or butter would do – you only need a bit so that the pasta doesn’t stick and so that the rest gets mixed in well), grated cheddar and mozzarella (I am fond of this particular coupling because of its smooth, mild taste and richness at the same time) or whatever else gets your toes to curl, some soy sauce (make sure to not overdo this one, especially with more pronounced variations of cheese – better to add in a few drops later than to be stuck with overly salty breakfast/lunch/dinner… :P), multi-colored pepper (it DOES matter, taste-wise, if pepper is just one kind or the mix, but heck, if you don’t have the mix… substitute to your liking 🙂 ) and mix well. Make sure to do all of the above pretty quickly as pasta has a tendency to cool off fast. As a final touch, you may opt to then mix in a raw egg-yolk, but you don’t have to – thy shall be forgiven if you don’t. The whole ordeal from the moment pasta water boils and you throw it in takes roughly 15 minutes. Bon appetit :).

The mock version of the dinner behind us, we have ventured into the evening for another zouk workshop. In theory, it was meant to finish earlier than it did and leave some time for social dancing. In practice, it finished just about 15 minutes before I had to leave to the train station… Meh… Good strategic thinking on our behalf resulted in some dancing on the side while any music was playing during the workshop though, so it was not a visit paid completely in vain :).

45 minutes later in Utrecht… I finally saw the pretty face of my lovely friend, whose hair dryer I never got to use… She took me through the cold, dark night all the way to the college campus on her bike, on which I froze my fingers and my ass, but it was definitely a fun and worthy experience :). Once there, we had some gnocchi and went to the student party at the bar right there on campus (what a kick-ass cool university!). Since the last time I attended an organized party affiliated with an educational institution it was back when I was 14 or so in the UK (summer language school), this was quite a funny experience to observe the scene – it reminded me more of high school than college. The music was fine though so it didn’t matter – we left to catch some snooze at around 3am.

The following day after the breakfast and some chatting I had returned back to the Hague. This was the day scheduled for unwinding and properly utilized for that relaxing and recharging purpose. Oh, and I had been converted to becoming a devoted addict to the Ben&Jerry’s ice-cream after the very first try of their chocolate-chip-cookie-dough variation on the theme. This stuff is pure sweet-tooth-ers’ cocaine!!! It’s so good it must be banned! YUMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!!!

Thursday began lazily and rainy-ly and ended up in manic attempts to pack the suitcase before the tram left. The tram won the race… So it had been agreed upon to catch the next one. A short while later at the station, having managed to not miss the ride I was certain I’d miss, I hopped onto the fuschia-colored train (Barbie train??!! lollll) that took me to Amsterdam to our lovely host from last year. As it had been the case last time, it was all about food once again – not that I’m complaining though :). This was the Spanish omelette evening, which we then went to dance-off at the congress pre-party. The pre-party was small and didn’t last long – definitely not the greatest value for the 7-euro price of the entry – but it was a nice way to kick off the weekend.

Having gotten off two stops before the one we actually needed, for whatever reason (even though we’ve taken the same exact bus back many times last year), we wandered around a bit being very lost within the approximately 200m range from where we were staying. Taking the right street would’ve helped, as we had later figured out from the street maps (practical Dutch people put area maps at all bus and tram stops with ‘you are here’ pointers – gotta love them!), so we were home sleeping, after raiding the fridge for some yoghurt, about an hour in total later than we could have made it.

Friday afternoon I’ve met with a friend of mine for a coffee to catch up on her news and latest successes and developments. I’ve been also shamelessly seduced by the most good looking lemon muffin. It wasn’t probably as exciting as a space-cake could’ve been, from what I’ve heard, but it did the trick for me in its own ways :). Later on, it was Chinese dinner’s turn.

Then, finally, here came the first festival night. It is amazing how tiny the dancing world is – at every festival you meet people you’ve seen before, the friends from around the world, share the news, the dancing, the atmosphere… And this is also the first night of being spaced-out. Sadly for all the sensation hunters out there what I mean by ‘spaced-out’ has nothing to do with many of the interesting things Amsterdam has to offer on its menu. I mean being spaced out by dancing – quite literally so, too, when one of my favorite of all times Dutch dancers made me fly up and down and around in the air for a couple of songs once again – wheeeeeeee :):):):):):). I had been waiting for this ever since last November!!! And I want more again soon!!! Hehe :). The only unpleasant part of the night was the strict shut-down of the party at 4am sharp. One would reasonably expect the party to go on till at least 5 but nope… In addition, it was the last song when the DJ announced the last song. In case you don’t know, the festival unspoken rule is to have the ‘last song’, then have the public demand one more and have the real last song (or, if you’re lucky, two) play. But this was it when they said this was it :(. How very Dutch :(… lollll… At least this time we got off at the right bust stop.

Saturday afternoon I went to search for a pair of black shorts – mine have been left at home along with that damned hair dryer and I needed them for the Saturday night glamour dress-code do (pictures pending…). Then I had the most delicious apple pie with a couple of friends, some fun conversations and generally spent the time rather pleasantly away from the misery unfolding outside weather-wise. I was back at the house exactly in time for the dinner – pesto pasta, tuna salad and a few other little things. After the dinner I  actually stretched (wow, I’m proud of myself) properly, then got ready and set off for more dancing.

This night there were more people and less free dancing area, which is probably why I received a decent hit on the nose right at the start, but even that didn’t spoil the mood. This night the music was more to my liking as well, and I’ve gotten to dance with all my favorite dancers plus several of those I didn’t dance with before – what a treat! Spacing out continued through the night and culminated in the final several songs interpreted on-par with Ant. By this time there were fewer survivors on the floor, so we took our improv to the next level and it ended up being an amazing creative collaborative effort that is exactly that kind of a high that is worth dancing for :). That is not, of course, to dismiss the similarly psychedelic in their own ways zouk sessions with the rest of my lovely Dutch dance team – guys (Roger, Jasper, Odin, Yon) you all RULE my dancing world! 4 am came way too fast that night, but everything has to come to an end, even the best spacing-out sessions…

So here was Sunday with its late afternoon wake-up call, packing, flight back to Prague and catching up on some unfinished urgent business… Right now it is half past 7am on February 15th, the morning after the best v-day ever: I slept in late, went to class and then straight to the v-day zouk party at the Church, where we had a great deal of fun. I reckon I better get to bed, as I would eventually need to get up some time in the afternoon to fulfill some other urgently pending tasks. Therefore, I salute you and in the true anti-valentine and pro-valentine spirit (just to maintain both sides of the perspective), present you with (if you haven’t seen them yet) some appropriate for the occasion treats :). Enjoy!

1. The anti-valentine anthem

2. The french take on the same idea

3. The “I’m pissed off that you’re leaving” – creative dance take on the most romantic song ever

4. The timeless masterpiece by the timeless poet

5. And, finally, on the many faces of love

Posted in Amsterdam, The Hague, The Netherlands | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The first 24 hours in Paris and other tales

Before I even start on this, allow me to mention that Paris is a city I have already visited several times throughout my life. While a full-feature story about my previous trips to the city is still in the ether somewhere, I can’t help but share the most recent experiences, partially because on my recent visit I have had more happen to me in the first day than ever before over the course of several days.

It all began when my Parisian friends expressed their disappointment at the fact that they haven’t seen me for ‘too long’. The ‘too long’ criteria is, of course, highly subjective, but I guess that two years into the separation is a reasonable measure. Thus, having discovered an ultra-cheap flight to Paris during my spring break, I’ve proceeded to purchase it and following a hectic, sleep-deficient day, boarded the plane that has smoothly landed in the French capital shortly before 11pm.

My dearest friend that I have stayed with has been kind enough to pick me up at the airport, and I was finally introduced to the entire CD of Rihanna on our way back to the city. Alas, upon arrival we have figured out that a) we were desperately hungry and b) the fridge was desperately empty. So we ventured a couple of blocks from the house into a tiiiiiiny little place with the French crêpes (aka thin, large pancakes). The place looked like something you would intuitively rather speed up right past, but that would be a grave mistake. Located off the center of Paris, this little crêperie is worth a dedicated visit! Named Marche ou Crêpe, it is rather famous, a suggestion one may find in travel guides and definitely something you and your taste buds will remember with joy. You can pick and mix your own recipe from a selection of many unusual, fresh ingredients, whether sweet or salty. I must say that my born-at-the-spot idea of having goat cheese, egg, olives and sweet paprika was so damn good I’m still dreaming about a second serving!

However, the gastronomical experience was just the beginning of it all. On our way back to the house, we have been stopped by a man who was clearly not very sane. For whatever the unfortunate reason, he wanted to talk to us and got very upset when we simply carried on walking. He followed us, asking why was it we didn’t want to talk to him. At a certain point, he grabbed me by the hand to stop me and even reached into his back trousers pocket after a beer bottle, which we were not too interested in knowing what he wanted to do with. He then spat in my direction, too, after we told him to leave us alone, which is when we promptly crossed the street to the nearest available cafe with someone in it. They were closing, but we asked if we could just stand there for a few moments till the guy is gone. Soon enough, he found another set of victims to try and converse with, so we made a little semi-circle around his street post and sped back to the house. My friend said she had never had anything like this happen to her in 11 years of living in the city – I must definitely be some sort of a lucky charm for all kinds of madness…

The rest of the night had been spent extremely productively – by talking till the wee hours of the morning. I must say that besides the company-deprived man, so far everything went rather well.

The afternoon of February 28th was spent the way it should have been after all these sleepless nights: passed out. Rather early in the evening than late in the afternoon, I finally got up, took a lovely shower and was driven to the new gastronomical treat of the day. This time it was a small, hidden Japanese restaurant that has been owned by the same couple for at least a decade. Before, the restaurant did not accept non-Japanese clients, but nowadays economy dictates otherwise. Still, you would be better off when it comes to ordering anything if you either know Japanese or have someone with you who does :).

I had just received my special gift, too – a fancy set of chopsticks that can be dismantled and carried around in a special casing – so I was happy to try them out (read: show them off). I was also happy to try out all those yummy items on the menu. The feast had been hallmarked by the green tea ice-cream with sweet beans and I naively thought that this was enough of guilty pleasures for the night.

Instead, another friend of mine had texted to ask if I was interested in going for a drink with a few people. We’ve arranged for them to pick me up at my friend’s place and the ‘few drinks’ have turned out to be a visit into the VIP Room club. It’s been a while since I’ve seen this many over-dressed youth representatives gathered at one location!

The music disappointed me that night. Specifically, the fact that until as late as 2am the DJ kept playing half a minute or a minute of music and then threw in a half a minute pause… Or at least so it seemed… Pauses are fine, but they should only last THAT long and no longer. Besides, pausing music every other bloody minute does nothing to hype up the crowd – it rather does a lot to kill the groove even if someone has it to start with! In the end it got a bit better, so we left around 4am.

This is how I’ve gotten a lovely cheap-end meal, a crazy man, a hidden Japanese place and a VIP hang-out squeezed into the first 24 hours of my visit.

The other tales of that trip are the following:

1. The tale of Bastille.

Bastille is where we arranged to have a rendez-vous with yet another friend of mine at 4pm on the Sunday. The plan was to proceed to the Barrio Latino for the afternoon Salsa marathon. Once at Bastille, I had texted my friend a very imaginative “I am at Bastille”, but received no answer. It was rather cold outside, so I decided to find the place myself. I had been there once several years ago in the middle of the night, but I roughly recalled how the street should look like that it was on – a helpful thing granted that there are about 10 streets converging on Bastille… I’ve informed my friend that I’m going to the place and began circling the round-about. No reply…

At one of the streets, I saw a neon sign that seemed familiar. Trusting my inner GPS, this was the street I have decided to try taking and, surpriiiiiiiize, there was Barrio Latino just over a hundred meters into the street! I was very proud of my navigational skills and proceeded inside to be stripped of 8 euros for the entry. I’ve stayed there till 10:30 (partially to get my money’s worth 🙂 ) and got to dance with many good dancers and some great ones, one smelly and one creepy, as well as one absolutely crazy but in a great way :). One guy recognized me from Prague Zouk weekend with Mafie – we even managed to dance our Brazilian version to two songs of French Zouk-love :). I’ve also myself recognized a couple of people from some Salsa congresses – it was fun to see familiar faces. However, my friend had disappeared into oblivion… By 10:30 the place began to empty out and I began to feel hungry. These two factors influenced my decision to finally leave, grab the McD hunger fix kit (KFC was closed 😦 ) and proceed back to the house to sleep some more.

As it later got cleared up, my friend was helping someone to move and was too tired to come that day. I guess it was a smart decision not to wait at the metro stop! I’m just wondering how strenuous the move must have been if even a text message to inform me proved too exhausting of a task :).

2. The Truffle tale.

I must say that I am rather surprised by the general level of culinary fanciness of this particular trip… Following a lovely and a delicious dinner at the Relais le Bistrot d’Edouard with yet another friend of mine and two wonderful ladies (his friends), we have arranged to give a try to the Terres de Truffes restaurant the following evening. My previous experience with truffles is limited to some truffle sauce in Italy (but those gastronomical tales are a subject of an upcoming entry of their own), so I was curious. I was so curious that I was the first one to arrive to the place 🙂 (okay well maybe it had to do something with the fact that yet another friend of mine we grabbed a drink with earlier that day had to leave and I was not too far from the location…). Then my lovely hostess and her friend showed up, and finally one of the two lovely ladies from the night before. So there we are the four of us waiting for my friend and the other girl to arrive… And they never do! As it turned out, she had not been feeling well that day (as one could reasonably expect that after a night of binge-drinking 😀 😀 😀 ), so they had decided to have a dinner at yesterday’s place instead, which is right next door to the house. Except that, fortunately, neither I nor the other lady have received the texts that informed us about the change of plans!

This series of events resulted in us having the dinner at the truffle place… I must say that the fuss about them is not over-estimated by a bit! Everything we tried was damn delicious, the service was extremely friendly and helpful with the selection, and this gourmet dinner will definitely stay as one of the highlights in my memory of everything I’ve ever eaten!

After the dinner, we have stopped by my friend’s place for a short chat and towards 2am proceeded back to the house to finish yet another enjoyable day.

The very last tale is the tale of suspicion… It is actually very short: upon my arrival to the airport the next day (and I pride myself in yet again making it with enough buffer time – a habit I seem to have lost over the years to the risky one of making it to the airport 3 minutes before the end of the check-in…), I was kindly requested by a police officer not to go upstairs. Turns out there had been a suspicious object discovered at the airport, so I decided to use the freshly available to me 15 minutes of procrastination (this is how long the officer said it should take to sort everything out) for a coffee break. Since I was not the only one, the little cafe quickly filled up and as the fortune has it, I ended up in the line in front of fellow Russian citizens, who had troubles finding tea on the menu. I’m overly chatty when sleep deprived, so I helped them to find the tea and talked them into oblivion while having the coffee. Hopefully, I talked them into visiting Prague :). If so, my mission was completed. The suspicious object had also been dealt with in the meantime, so I had finally proceeded to the Charles de Gaulle and waved goodbye to Paris and my very delicious visit.

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The very first one, aka “extended welcome”

I love flying.

The very first time I got onto a plane may not have been early enough to call it “too early” (after all, some manage to be born aboard), but just about the time when I was old enough to remember it. As far as my mom recalls my age, I was five. And (oh yes, I have just started a sentence with “and” – so?), as far as I personally remember, I vigilantly hated every minute that passed between the departure gate and the arrival hall.

Back then, flying from Moscow to Sochi involved boarding from the ground. Standing on the ladder, I thought I would forever go deaf from the all-encompassing roar of the warming turbines. It throbbed nearly un-muted right through all the might of the squeeze of my little hands on my pulsating ears and kept bothering me all through the flight. In addition, I was as thirsty as a reformed alcoholic at someone’s wedding with open bar – except, at that age (although, this holds true even at my current one), I was much more into plain fresh water, no amount of which helped the least bit to relieve the feeling of dryness in my mouth and throat. That I felt interchangeably too hot and too cold was just that famous cherry on top. It took a few hours well into Sochi for that unbelievable thirst to let go.

From then on, however, it all could definitely only get better. Thus, nowadays, two decades later I can definitely say that I love flying. The short and the long, the tiring, the on and off-schedule, the comfortable and not really, with varying quality of food and service – flying, when other means of transportation are either too long to afford or too expensive to bear, takes me to the places, where everything is different. From climate to culture, from food to the perception of time and customs – the number of nuances that seem to change over a few kilometers is so vast, that experiencing each unmatched bouquet as if opens new dimensions within, plays a different note and melody on the strings of the soul.

Soon enough, despite the growing carbon footprint, new destinations as a category become a sort of a drug. Itchy feet itch all year round, even when it’s wonderful at home, and at the very least all holidays, when possible, are spent chasing the fix. The rest of the year is spent dancing and learning, socializing and planning grand things, occasionally sorting thousands of pictures, and getting occasional mild doses of geographical novelty in the form of short weekend trips somewhere nearby. Living in the very heart of Europe definitely helps – buses, trains and cheap air carriers are enticing to hop on and take off, but even without them there is always hitchhiking, or finally getting that driver’s license. All else being equal, by the measure of time I still must say that for longer distances I prefer airborne solutions (for the lack of a functioning model for teleportation – sigh…), although I will not decline any reasonable (or, in some cases, worryingly questionable) means of getting from point A to point B, especially given that I have at least as many points B as there are countries in the world – and then some.

Enjoy, if it’s worth it, this blog, enjoy traveling, even if simply to another state, city, or a new place in town, and most definitely enjoy the main thing that makes absolutely everything possible – life.

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Quick note to the blog subscribers

Dear followers!

First of all, thank you so much for being there! I hope I don’t disappoint you with the quality/frequency of the posts :). If you’d ever have any suggestions, comments, requests – you can always contact me!

Second: it may be tricky to notice, but the tabbed menu of my blog actually features FIVE separate blogs. What it means for you as a subscriber is that you would ONLY be notified of new posts in the blog(s) you are subscribed to – and you would NOT be notified of any new posts under any other sections/blogs. This is mainly done so that posts that are extremely different in focus and area of interest don’t blanket-flood everyone :).

If, however, you are interested in any other section(s)/blogs, don’t forget to subscribe to them separately, too, not to miss out on new articles! Here’s a very quick guide to each section/blog:

In Shade: random entries on a variety of topics and occurrences in life. Usually not extremely long (I’ll likely migrate longest entries into ‘Contemplating’ section, when relevant). In the future, the plan is to add more videos and pictures – yes, the funny stuff too :).

Travel Tales: once I get a hang of picture resizing, I’ll continue to migrate my travel photos to this blog. Most times it will be a gallery, and you can read the story of the whole trip by following picture captions in the gallery. I’ve been to 42 countries so far (I think…), so a LOT is coming up!

Contemplating: long text warning! This section/blog often contains longer writing with many external links/videos on various topics that are more thought-provoking, controversial, educational, inspiring. My focus changes over time, so just because the latest spree was focused heavily on religion, it doesn’t mean that’s all you’d ever get :). In the future: even more of great stuff on education, science and everything else that constitutes slow food for the brain :).

Dancing through life: everything dance. Congresses I go to, styles I dance, occasional rants on the topic of dance floor violence :D. Coming up in the future: amazing dance videos and pictures from different styles.

Poetry: thus far the most neglected section of the blog… But I’ll get to it :). If you’re into poetry – let me know. I’d be more motivated to post if there’s an audience for it :D.

Voila, that’s it :). It’s like a buffet – so feel free to pick and choose, subscribe to sections (well, blogs 🙂 ) that you’re interested in – remember that they are separate and if you’re not subscribed to some section(s), you won’t get notifications of new posts made there :).

Wishing all of you well, thank you for being there! Also, don’t hesitate to share anything that you may find interesting with others :).

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Berlin 2009 – East Side Gallery

Politics is the continuation of war by other means. We are all their aim.

No man’s land

I’m not too sure if this is correct, but I think it says “we have tried to color the wall. We’re about to give up”.

The reverse side of the Wall is also covered with painting, albeit not of the same size/quality as the averse side.

The other side of the Wall…

Perseverance of ignorance

Love, don’t forget me!

I love you, life. In Russian it is a line from a very popular song of the previous generation.

Top (visible section): war and peace, life and heaven. Center: freedom

USSR. Gagarin (the famous Russian Astronaut – 1st man in space). Vysotsky (an extremely influential Soviet poet, songwriter, singer and actor who marked his own era)

Middle: Unity. Preserving nature. Joy. Music. Joy (in Russian). Happiness.
Below-left: There was a wall between the worlds.
The above is already history!

Leave to grow.
Below: please water!

Everything is open

Diagonal solution to the problems

Probably one of the most iconic pieces of art on the Wall. It says “god please help me survive amidst this deadly love”. The image captures a very peculiar habit of Soviet Leaders to lip-kiss one another as a greeting.

You have learned what is called freedom and you shall never forget

Note the German eagle silhouette on the globe

The Berlin Wall is separated by a normal width sidewalk from a very busy street, so it is, unfortunately, impossible during the day to step back far enough to take a picture of an entire painting at once for the larger pieces without obstructing traffic…

Plus I don’t know how to mend together panoramic pictures… 😀 Not to mention that even if I could, I probably couldn’t be bothered…

Fatherland… Interestingly enough, Hitler, unlike the rest of Germans, called Germany ‘motherland’.

Because all the artwork is right out in the open, it is, obviously, exposed to the elements and colors fade over time. Luckily, when I got there the Wall had been recently retouched and the colors freshened up. Here is one piece still undergoing the process.

And here is the man working on it

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Anti-Valentine’s day trip to Italy, 2008. Lerici and Milan

This gallery contains 49 photos.

The next destination on the map carried the nickname of “the bay of poets”. The little town Lerici apparently hosted a bunch of creative people’s retreats and was one of their favorite places to visit for inspiration. This was pretty … Continue reading

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Anti-Valentine’s day trip to Italy, 2008. Florence.

This gallery contains 23 photos.

Rescued by my friend from the increasingly boring stay in Bologna, I got a chance to visit Florence. It was roughly lunch time when we arrived… You can also view the album as a slideshow: Our next stop for the … Continue reading

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Anti-Valentine’s day trip to Italy, 2008. Bologna.

This gallery contains 65 photos.

One time a CouchSurfing friend of mine suggested to go for an Erasmus Valentine’s day party in Bologna… The tickets were cheap, so was the stay, and in the anti-v-day spirit, I said “definitely yes!”. This is how it went … Continue reading

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Israel and Jordan 2007: Dead Sea and the living history.

I remember when we took a ship ride from Cyprus to Israel to visit Jerusalem back when I was yet a pre-teen. The very first local image imprinted in my memory was that of huge piles of trash on the sides of the road.

This time we have arrived to Eilat instead. Besides the landing at a small military airport outside of the city, nothing else in this tourist haven showed any signs of the on-going  conflict between Israel and Palestine…

Next local destination on my list is Tel Aviv :).

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Sri Lanka 2007: fruits, elephants and woodcraft.

This gallery contains 167 photos.

On November 9th, 2007 I have arrived to Sri Lanka for a congress and some sunshine. I was the only one flying from Prague, so I had to wait a couple of hours for the others, and then we finally … Continue reading

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Sri Lanka 2007: the land of the impossible.

Everyone smiles on Sri Lanka, but unless you kick them in the nuts, exerting any sort of effort, with rare exceptions, is not on their agenda… As I mentioned before, I had managed to multiply my adventures tenfold – here is how:

I was meant to stay at Beruwala only for 2 more days and leave on the 17th. My flight was at 19:05 in the evening, so I spent the first half of the day in the sunshine regretting the fact that I’d have to clean up the house when I get back :D. Don’t get me wrong, I actually really wanted to go back to Prague, but I just thought that one extra day of grilling wouldn’t’ve hurt :).

You know, let me insert a piece of advise here: be extremely careful what you wish for because every now and then it all tends to come true. I guess I so dreaded the cleanup that somehow I got it fixed in my mind that my flight was at 19:50 (my mild dyslexic tendencies at their best…) so we called a taxi for 4pm… BIG mistake…

Beruwala is only 60km away from Colombo, and the airport is 20km away from the city, making the total journey’s worth a mere 80km. However, due to the traffic unfitting any commonly acceptable Western schema of vehicle interaction, including the almost supernatural ability of the local drivers to squeeze through the tiniest holes, driving with nearly no distance between each other, taking all lanes at the same time, passing other cars on any convenient side AND not having car accidents every 30 meters of the road, it would normally take 3-4 hours to get to the airport. We made it in 2,5 hours but the check-in counters close 1 hour before the flight here, not 45 minutes as is the case in many other international airports.

If you happen to be one or two minutes late to the check-in, then too very bad for you. Sri Lanka was still under military regime back then, so the security measures included, among others, something ridiculous like “sorry, we can’t check you in” for anyone who was not at the counter on time…

Fully stressed out, I went back to the hotel, told my sad story to the rest of the group and went to the bar to drown my sorrows. I had told my sad story to the fun British ladies who kept trying to set me up for a date with a local animation team member, received a double martini bianco as a moral compensation (they had it all-inclusive anyway), danced a bit and ended up walking on the beach till 2:30am.

On Sunday the 18th I went to Colombo again – this time with the rest of the group. Their flight to Moscow was at 2-something am on Monday but they had a plan to stop by some other places on the way. So I got dropped off at the Ceylon Continental hotel for the night… The trick is, Qatar airways operational center at the airport had told me on Saturday (the day I missed the flight) that there were seats available on the same flight on Sunday. However, I could not get on board without a booking. And I could not get a booking because Qatar airways office, and most of the important things in this country, are closed on Sundays, while the operational center could not process bookings (which makes me wonder wtf for do they even exist at the airport)…

On Monday the 19th we went to Qatar airways office in Colombo city center and were told that the nearest available flight is on the 26th of November… Even though factually speaking several rows of seats are always available on every flight leaving Sri Lanka – reserved for governmental officials in case an emergency evacuation shall be needed… I said it ain’t good enough. They said there’s nothing they can do. So we went to Sri Lankan Airways and they said they can get me to Prague on 25th. I said it wasn’t quite good enough just yet and asked for the nearest connection anywhere to Europe. They said London on the 20th. I said perfect I can get to Prague from there. We booked the flight and got the ticket. Then I asked a friend of mine in London to book a flight from Heathrow to Prague, it turned out to be on 21st at 19:30pm.

I then got back to the hotel to stay yet another night… Good news is, just as during the full moon party hustle in Thailand, I think my guardian angels (even though they allowed me to miss an opportunity to fly out on Sunday grrrrrr) are still cool dudes after all. Every now and then they do something nice for me for a difference. As I was sitting in the hotel lobby on Sunday wondering whether I should first shower then eat dinner or first eat dinner and then shower, the decision taking me way too long, there was some man sitting nearby and we ended up talking. I told him about getting stuck on this forsaken island (a lovely place, actually, if you watch your anti-mosquito equipment and presume everything, including the simplest things, would take 3 times as long as they should and half of them would be done wrong anyway, and be ready for it all mentally). It turned out to be some Director of International Admissions from a college in Cyprus. Quite a funny individual :). He cordially invited me to use his laptop (mine was upstairs) and check mail. Then we had a dinner, discovered a cake made of floor (well, at least that’s what it listed among the ingredients on the label next to it 😀 ) and walked along the ocean listening to the music on the cell phones talking about random stuff.

When I came back on Monday afternoon, he was meeting with people from universities in Sri Lanka at the lobby. I told him I got a ticket to London and a flight to Prague. After he finished the meetings and I finished using the ‘stolen’ wifi internet of the hotel (I happened to have overseen the login and password of the business center, so I enjoyed limitless free internet for a few hours, which should actually be free anyway for hotel guests) we had a dinner again. This time we both were tired so we acted loco, putting napkins on the head cuz they were folded like crowns, complaining to the waiters about the meat, requested the maitre d’ to play some Western music (that evening was dedicated to the far East Asian themes so they had some sleepy nice Chinese music on to go with the food. We asked to change it because there was no one else at the restaurant. Surprisingly, they actually did!) and generally entertained the staff.

Then we went to his room and watched some horror movie that neither of us got the point of and, disappointed with that fact, called it a night and wished each other a nice flight. Since I had not paid for lunch or dinner at the hotel on the second night of my stay, it was extremely convenient to have gotten someone to feed me :).

Tuesday morning. I had breakfast and went to the airport. I arrived on time. I even had so much time that I spent an hour reading a magazine in a café. Then the boarding was announced and I went to the gate. At the gate, however, I was told that since my connecting flight was over 24 hours after my arrival, they wouldn’t let me on board without a transit visa. The British immigration agent at the gate said the airlines should not have let me through the check in without asking about my connection flight time and e-ticket print out, so it was their fault. Thanx for the tip! I tried to ask at the transit counter if they had internet so I could print out my connecting ticket, but they gave me the dumb “can’t do anything” look… Boarding was completed – without me. I was escorted back through the customs, my exit stamp annulled…

I tried to get a connecting flight booked from London, and there was one at 8-something am on the 21st, but by the time these people did anything at all I had missed the London flight anyway. So, keeping in mind I shall continue to blame the airlines, I requested them to put me on the same flight the next day, free of charge, which they, surprise-surprise, actually did. So much for telling me there were no seats on any European destination flights till the 24th…

To have this all done, I had to go outside the airport terminal to the Sri Lankan Airways ticket counters (yep, they are actually outside the airport…) and make a booking. I then got back inside the airport (third time now!), walked towards the check-in counters to ask what I shall do next and guess whom I saw checking in? Exactly ‒ my food provider of the past two evenings! 😀 He asked me what a hell I was still doing in Sri Lanka anyway, I de-briefed him shortly about the procedure, then we caught some woman and asked her if I can get past the emigration and she said it is possible to get checked in and go to the terminal area only 11 hours before the flight. That meant 2am and I decided not to go back to the hotel, since I’d get a chance to sleep later on, but wait in the airport instead and save the money. So we wished each other a good trip yet again and I went to the public area which, by the way, has quite little to offer. I haven’t told my parents about the fact that I’d be staying an extra night at Sri Lanka vs. London because it made, technically, little difference in relation to the time of my arrival to Prague. Or so I thought…

Thus, I roamed around, looking for a socket I could plug in to. It turned out that, unlike the hotels, airport has different sockets. So I asked some woman in a little travelers’ store if she knew of a place I could get electricity access and she got me a chair and told me I can stay as long as I want to right there at the store and use the computer if I need to cuz she actually has the universal sockets around. She even arranged a likeness of a table for me out of a chair and one of the small suitcases on display for sale 🙂 🙂 :). This way I was able to write this little story up until the paragraph before.

After waiting for 10 hours, the clock finally struck 2am, so I went to the check-in counters yet again. I was, however, told that I cannot be checked in until 8 hours before the flight… If i didn’t have a witness to testify that I was told something completely different, I could have thought that I had simply gone crazy after all this… I demanded then a place to sleep at and was told to go to some resting room upstairs, but the security lady had not let me into the elevator to go up. So I came to the Sri Lankan Airways service counter and asked why I was told something different by every person I so far talked to. The girl I asked said she did not understand how someone could tell me about an advance check in because check in counters only open 3 hours before the flight… (insert jaw drop…). I told her I have a witness to the case that a Sri Lankan Airways staff member had told me to come at 2 am, which is why I waited at the airport in the first place, so she must tell me if there is a place I can sleep at, which I had been consecutively promised. I was told I should either go to a hotel or stay at the airport public area, but I insisted that it was absurd and asked the lady to do something. She proceeded then to make some phone calls as I was standing there waiting, then she told me she was checking with security and that was the last of our communication for the upcoming 40 minutes. At 2:49am I asked if I will be granted any sort of an answer at all. The lady said there was nothing that could be done. I asked her then if it means I should sleep right there on the floor next to the counter and she said ok, with a wide smile.

I Guess she thought I was kidding but I was getting close enough to a 24 hour sleep deprivation after a rather short sleeping session the night before that at that point at 3am I couldn’t have cared less, on top of being immensely pissed off. Thus, I took out my winter jacket for the ‘bed’, a short sweater for a ‘pillow’ and a long one for the ‘duvet’ and, well, constructed a sleeping place right there next to the bloody counter on the floor tiles… The staff began laughing at me so I told them to shut up and that I’d look at how they would behave had they been through all I had been through because of the Sri Lankan Airways and their retarded (I, of course, omitted that adjective from my speech) staff. On that note, I got covered up head to toe and actually managed to sleep till 9am having only awaken twice for natural reasons :).

In the morning, just when I had thought everything was finally right, I got up and proceeded to the check-in the minute it opened. I talked to the office manager and told him how I was treated, but he said there was nothing the airlines could do for me. No compensation. Not even some breakfast… I was invited to write a complaint though… Okay then, I thought, screw that…

This time there was a reasonable human being at the counter. He asked me for an e-ticket print out, which I had made the evening before. And then (drum-roll…)… he had told me I would be missing my connection flight because the Colombo-London one actually arrives at Heathrow at 19:45 and my flight is booked at 19:05!!! So not only I was supposed to be let on board the day before, I was facing missing yet another flight to Europe because of the incompetence of the airport and airline staff!!!

I told my whole story to the guy at the counter and asked him to do something. He called the superior. The same “it is impossible to do anything but you can file a complaint” dude came up to me and told me I shall contact BA to sort it all out. Since this would have involved me either going all the way back to the city to the BA office (his first piece of advice), or calling them for a lengthy conversation on my Czech phone and running my bill skywards (his second suggestion), that practically meant that I’d be missing yet another London-bound flight…

Mad beyond any limits of politeness by then, I said that I need them to sort out my connection flight and I honestly don’t give a crap how they are going to do it because I need to get to Prague and they have to make sure that I do. The guy began telling me some more b.s. but I told them (at this point some woman came by who seemed to be in some higher authority position) to cut the crap. I guess I was furious enough to be convincing. The woman took my passport and tickets, listened to my case and disappeared somewhere.  The sane guy at the check-in counter actually was extremely supportive and kept me informed about what was going on all along, telling me that some phone calls are being made and generally saying not to worry. Unfortunately, he had to leave the post 2.5 hours in, but he told the guy replacing him about me and assured me once again everything should be fine… Fortunately, ass-kicking (a tactic I only resort to out of desperation) worked wonders! The mystery woman reappeared roughly 3 minutes before the London flight check-in was to close: they managed to get in touch with BA and get me a confirmed reservation for yet another flight to Prague at 8am on the 22nd, although first they kept telling me it was fully booked.

I wonder just how impossible that task was after all, granted it had been done. Given that by the time it had all been sorted out the check in was just about to close, imagine what I was feeling during the wait!

Thus, I was given a print out of the connecting flight, checked in and proceeded to the departure gate. Luckily, this time I was allowed on board. Hallelujah! All better than the 26th, after all… The same British immigration lady was there, I had told her that they miscalculated my stay at Heathrow and I should have been accepted onto the flight the day before. But oh well, whatever…

At the gate I got to sit on the seats reserved for clergy and met some weird Irish man who offered to marry me at the airport upon arrival, so I can get a better passport 😀 😀 :D. 11 hours later I have landed at Heathrow, back at the civilized world, and in 5 minutes time was checked in by the polite BA staff for the morning flight to Prague, after having paid 61$ more for the ticket change ‒ the sum I otherwise would have paid for a night at the hotel had I gone back to the city in Colombo…

So I had spent a night at the Heathrow airport. It was a bit more comfortable than the floor, but bloody freezing because AC ran like crazy for whatever reason it could happen in the face of the up-coming winter. Even the staff were freezing and said something was wrong with system regulation… In the meantime, I had saved some Ukrainian lady, also awaiting a flight but to Ukraine, from freezing during the night by letting her wear one of my two sweaters to sleep. We had a coffee in the morning and then parted ways to our respective gates. The flight was delayed about 20 minutes ‒ a drop in the ocean, really, after all the previous turmoil :D. And, two hours later, I had finally made it to Prague. I arrived to the house, took a niiiiiiiice long hot shower, began to feel like a human being again, got ready and went to my dance class of the day. I’m back. Life’s good again. Cold, but pretty good still!

The conclusions to this trip are the following. First, it’s yet to show why I stayed at this forsaken Colombo place for so long and what this entire episode of my life was about, besides, of course, making one hell of a story. Maybe some time later something useful will grow out of this situation, as it oftentimes happens :). One thing for sure, there are always a few awesome people around if you open your heart and eyes and allow them to help you. The second thing is, I definitely need to swap my Russian passport for something better. Or at least get a dual citizenship. I’m afraid none of the non-Russian friends of mine will ever come to understand what it really means to have a Russian passport and try to travel around the world… With all due respect to my motherland, I feel like a piece of dirt whenever I need to beg for admittance to any visa requiring state, which there are almost 200 of for the Russians… So much for divisions among the states, borders and political tensions caused by strive for power and world domination or at least a strong enough position… And law-abiding citizens like myself, willing to spend their money on other countries’ economies by going there, must suffer through demeaning experiences of the kind just by the vice of beholding a passport of one country vs. some other… The more I learn about politics, and the more times I need to prove I am not a criminal to obtain a visa to go somewhere, the more I hate power politics and the roots of thereof…

But even all THAT was not the end 🙂

Remember the congress and the tortures we underwent while there? Well, the whole congress part was so bad that some woman even passed out from having had no food for so long. I understand that this was Sri Lanka, after all, but it was an international congress and it was not the first time around they organized it (in fact, it was 45th 🙂 ). People paid good cash to fly there from all over the world – to experience that? I was so irritated by everything that a few weeks after I came back I sat down and wrote a very long and detailed e-mail to the Colombo University – just to vent (I didn’t have a blog back then 🙂 ).

I wrote them about the organization, timing/scheduling. I offered them specific suggestions on how to speed up some things (for instance, on day 1 some of the students were awarded diplomas on the stage. It’d go like this: a name is read. The person gets up from wherever they are in the audience (or even up on the balcony), walks all the way to the stage, gets the diploma, walks all the way back. Next name is called… You can imagine how long THAT alone took!), why it was important to stay on time and how to do it. I wrote them about the food problem: they must have had food (free or even for sale) on premises during the conference, as well as water. Dinner was to be served immediately – people can enjoy entertainment while eating. I had a specific section dedicated to the presentations themselves – the content and the delivery… Man, I was even ready to go give them a crash course on Power Point and public speaking, if they would pay my expenses! I sent out the e-mail and happily forgot about it.

A few months later I received a message from the Colombo University… They thanked me for the letter. Which was already more than I expected… However, they also said that they had forwarded that letter to every single one of past congress participants/speakers!!! OOOOPSIE… (I guess due to presentation-making section…) That was not what I expected at all! However, I am happy about it because if it helped them to make at least some changes, participants would suffer less as a result. The moral of the story is: if there is something that bothers you – try writing a letter, giving a call, or sending an e-mail… You may be surprised :). If you’re backing up a cause – try rallying for more people to do the same. Funnily, people often think that their voices won’t be heard just because they never try…

I wish you all safe travels, smooth schedules and pleasant experiences! However, I dare you, in the comments, to share an “I missed the flight” story that can beat mine in absurdity – have you ever had such? 🙂

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