Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Italian Man who went to Malta

This video is frickin' hilarious!

Video uploaded in youtube by Alundras.

Peace on you! LOL

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Travesty

Liverpool lost the Champions League final 1-2 to AC Milan. I am too pissed off for words. Nuff said.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Change in plans

The French Open is coming up, and as a huge tennis fan, I was thinking of heading to Paris and watching the 2nd Grand Slam event of the year. But since I didn't want to take more days off, I figured I would just fly to France for a weekend and watch the tennis played during that time. The finals are all played on Saturday (women) and Sunday (men) but decided against that, thinking that if I watched the earlier rounds, I would get to see more matches and the tickets would be cheaper.

So I ordered a ticket for both June 2 and 3 (Sat and Sun) in Center Court (Philippe Chatrier Court). I got confirmation that my order has been successfully processed and I will be receiving information as to my seat pretty soon.

The problem was that I ended up getting tickets only for Sunday, June 3 as June 2 was apparently fully booked. Which really sucks because I had to fly out on Sunday evening so it wasn't even like I would get a full day's worth of matches. And I also got relegated to Court 1. Which sucks even more because the top players generally play in the Philippe Chatrier and Suzanne Lenglen courts. Hay...

So I think I've more or less resigned myself to the fact that I will no longer watch, even if I have already paid €32 for the Sunday ticket that I have. The hotel and airfare costs are too high to be justified by a partial-day's set of tennis in a less-important court. Ah well, maybe someday.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Mini-tour of Scandinavia: Stockholm

A lot of people who had been to Stockholm told me that it was a beautiful city and definitely worth a visit. So it made sense to include this in our itinerary. First impression of Stockholm: it's huge! Indeed, a lot of the attractions here are quite some distance apart from each other, and it is better to use public transportation system to get from one place to another. It actually reminds me of Paris with its mixture of modern buildings…

…and enchanting European-style architecture…

…set against wide avenues and grassy parks, with a bit more magic provided by Lake Malaren (quite similar to the magic that River Seine brings Paris).

Looking back, we didn’t really do much when we were here. Part of it because we were tired. But part was also due to the fact that we didn’t really spend time inside museums (we were essentially budget backpackers on this trip due to the cost of traveling in Scandinavia), so we just found ourselves walking around a lot, whether in the old town Gamla Stan or amidst the lush scenery of Djurgarden.

We did visit one museum, the Vasa Museet. This museum contains the Vasa warship, which was probably Sweden’s biggest nautical embarrassment as it sunk in the bay almost right after setting off. The mud at the bottom of Lake Malaren protected the ship from damage brought about by wood-boring worms, so when it was pulled from the water, it was completely intact and later on placed inside this museum. When you enter, you almost instantly see it. And just as immediately, your jaw drops. The Vasa warship is an awesome piece of history. And when you see a ship like this completely out of water, you are put in awe by just how massive it is. The dim lights are meant to protect the ship from damage, but it also serves the dual purpose of adding an all-important dimension of mystery to the ship, making it even more intimidating. I recall entering here at 4pm thinking that one hour was enough (it closes at 5pm) but the moment you are inside, you are entranced and time seems to slip by so quickly. A trip to the Vasa Museet needs to be included in any and every Stockholm itinerary. The 70 SEK are all worth it.

Another thing you should not miss when you are in Stockholm is the Absolut Icebar Stockholm. This bar was created by the same creators of the Ice Hotel located in Jukkasjarvi, 200 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle in Sweden.

Entrance fee is 160 SEK per person, and that covers rental of the winter coats as well as one Absolut Vodka drink. Additional drinks cost 85 SEK (and despite the fact that the refill costs close to P600, I decided to get another one. Ah well, you only live once…). Everything inside the bar (except for the floor I think) is made from pure ice from the Torne River in Sweden. And yes, that includes the glasses where the drinks are served. Talk about drinking “in the rocks” instead of “on the rocks”!


You need to book reservations if you plan to go to the Icebar, and I got mine for 9pm on Friday night. My mom and I got there 8:50pm, but we were allowed to head inside immediately. I read that you can only be in the bar for 45 minutes so I asked them how that worked, but they told me not to worry about it (we ended up staying an hour). When we got in, there weren’t a lot of people which allowed us to get a seat on the ice-made chairs that were covered in reindeer pelt to keep your butt from getting wet. I recall being surprised by the crowd, or even the fact that we managed to get a reservation for Friday night by calling just hours before, but maybe most people choose to go there even later in the evening.

My mom doesn’t really drink and I’m not an expert on Absolut cocktails, so I asked the bartender for recommendations. It turns out that my mom actually liked her drink, mainly coz it doesn’t taste like an alcoholic beverage. I think she got some vanilla-based cocktail while I had the very newly released Absolut Pear. People started coming in after that, although a lot of people who came in after we did also left sooner than us. It was great because we were able to take lots of photos inside. My mom and I even managed to have our photo taken with the bartender behind the bar. It was a really cool experience. And I mean that literally too. =)

The Changing of the Guard at the Royal Palace is another must-see. What was memorable about this is that it is done on horseback! It amazes me to think how those people managed to ride and control horses that lined up properly and moved in the right order at the right time. And they did this while playing musical instruments. How the hell you do that? I have to say, it is really impressive.

My Lonely Planet of Europe says that among its writers and contributors, Drottningholm Slott is one of their top 10 overrated sights in Scandinavia. But I figured that we might as well pay Drottningholm a visit because it has gardens that we can walk around in for free. When we got there, I actually thought it was worth a visit. (Or maybe the 70 SEK visit inside the castle itself is what was being referred to as overrated, I can’t say.) We spent a couple of hours just going around the garden area, taking more pictures.

My friend Christianne suggested that I take my mom to Kaknastornet, or the TV tower, to have a dazzling panoramic view of Stockholm while enjoying a coffee or a meal. So after going around our trip to Drottningholm, we headed to Kaknastornet for a very late lunch.

It was cloudy from lunchtime to early evening the day before, so I was pleased that the sun was out and the sky was clear when we got to the top of Kaknastornet. The views were naturally brilliant. And it was a very nice and cozy place to spend an hour or so over a cup of coffee (and a really good plate of pasta as well, in my case).

So that is Stockholm for you. The only thing that I missed out on doing was meeting up with Christianne, so maybe I will pay Stockholm another visit just so that I can get to meet up with her.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Mini-tour of Scandinavia: Bergen

Our trip to Bergen ended up being more a walk around this harbor city with its small town charm. It's not a large city, but it was founded way back in 1070 as a commercial center, and since then it has played a key role in the Norwegian economy.

You immediately realize what a beautiful city Bergen is the moment you step out of the train station. We were greeted by the picturesque Lille Lungegardsvann, a "lake" (it's really more like a huge pond) right in the middle of the city. There were several lovely patches of green grass that, coupled with the lake and a few squares scattered around the city center, gives you a sense of space and freedom, and several trees and flowers of all colors added life and vibrance. And the city is so clean!

One thing soured my experience here though. We headed to the Central Station early that day to buy our overnight tickets back to oslo for that night. Two days ago, I learned that these tickets would cost about 299 NOK per person, and I thought I would just buy them when we got to Bergen. HUGE mistake. This price was apparently what they called Minipris, which is a massively discounted price. What I didn't know was that you had to buy this Minipris ticket 24 hours before your trip. Otherwise, you pay full fare. And by full fare, I mean 1,103 NOK per person in the sleeper. That meant I lost P10,000 because I bought my tickets late (or well, less actually because we took the sleeper, and I think there's an additional 300 NOK per person to go on it, so maybe I lost "only" about P6,000). Damn! I was kinda reeling after that and couldn't let it go really, so for the next couple of hours I felt a bit deflated.

Anyways, we were not in the museum-going mode so we ended up just going around and looking at the interesting sights this beautiful city. Some of the places we visited:

Torgalmenningen, which is the main square of Bergen. It runs from the statue of Ole Bull, the Norwegian violinist who is often called Norway's first international star...

...all the way to Fisketorget on the harbor. I don't know if all the fishmongers here are part of some union or organization, but they do sport the same "uniform" - bright orange rubber overalls - that you can see on the guy in the right side of this pic.

On the other side of the harbor across the Fisketorget is Bryggen. It's a series of wooden houses and buildings that line the harbor and add so much personality to this area that it is actually part of the UNESCO World Heritage List.

We also passed by a couple of churches, the Domkirke and the Mariakirken. But from a sight-seeing perspective, most of our time was spent on Mt. Floyen. Bergen is surrounded by seven mountains, of which Mt. Floyen is the most popular and accessible (due to its proximity to the center). The tourist information center recommended that we take the Floibanen going up, then just stroll down the walking paths going back down. The Floibanen is a funicular that takes people to and from the top of Mt. Floyen.

Bergen is supposed to be renowned for rain, and in fact, there was a heavy fog that covered the entire city in the morning, hiding most of Mt. Floyen. But, as my colleague later on told me, we must have been lucky to get there on one of the ten days in the year that it wasn't raining in Bergen (that's an exagerration of course). The fog lifted close to noon and when we were at the top of Mt. Floyen, which was 320 meters above sea level, the sun was out with a vengeance, the sky was blue, and the views of the city were magnificent.

The trip back down left me and mom really tired, mainly because I had this very wrong notion that it would take 20 minutes to head down and it turned out to be more like an hour. We then spent the rest of the afternoon just chilling by the parks, much like the rest of Bergen who had set up camp in one of the many grassy areas or on the multitude of benches that were generously placed all over town.

There really are a lot of other places to see here (if you are willing to shell out a bit of money to pay entrance fees), like the Akvariet, Bergenhus Festning, and the Rosenkrantztarnet Tower. I also just found out too late that there are city walking tours available (we should've taken one of those). You can find more about Bergen here. One minor downer about Bergen is that it seems to be the most expensive city I have ever been in. To try and put things to perspective: a Quarter Pounder Meal in Stockholm costs about P400, in Oslo P500, and in Bergen P550. So if you do visit Bergen (and it certainly is worth a visit), just make sure you save up for it. And remember, make sure you avail of the Minipris tickets!

Mini-tour of Scandinavia: Norway in a Nutshell

From tall mountains to deep valleys, from placid lakes and fjords to roaring waterfalls, from green fields and forests to snow-covered villages, the Norway in a Nutshell tour is precisely that - Norway in a nutshell.

Oslo serves as the starting point of this highly recommended trip. A colleague of mine at work recommended that I take this, and since my mom had never been to Norway, I suggested to her that we take this trip while she was in Europe. Needless to say, we were not disappointed.

We got our tickets in the Oslo Central station the day before our trip. The itinerary varies depending on the month, so it’s better to check the website, but here’s how ours looked like:
  • Train from Oslo to Myrdal – 8:11am to 12:53pm
  • Myrdal to Flam via the Flamsbana – 1:02pm to 2pm
  • Ferry ride from Flam to Gudvangen – 3:10pm to 5pm
  • Bus ride from Gudvangen to Voss – 5:45pm to 7:05pm
  • Train ride from Voss to Bergen – 7:20pm to 8:34pm
Oslo to Myrdal

It takes some time to actually get out of the city limits, but when you do, you get a good sampling of the amazing views you can expect to see the rest of trip. I took several photos but some of them weren’t very good because I was taking them from inside a train, and the smudges and the reflections on the windows took away from the quality of the pics. We were very lucky though in that the skies were so clear so I did manage to capture a few really good shots.

What surprised me about this trip was that our train was passed through snow-capped mountains. I started taking more pictures but the reflections were even more prominent this time. So it made our day when the train took a 3 (or was it 5?) minute stop in Finse so that passengers could go out and have pictures taken with the snow. I actually think it was the first time my mom had seen snow.

It didn’t take much longer after this stop before we arrived at our first destination, Myrdal. It was here that we switched trains to get onto the Flamsbana, or the Flam Railway.

Myrdal to Flam

The scenery now changes from mountains and lakes to mountains and valleys. At one point during this train ride, a voice from the speakers tells us in English that to we would be coming up to see the Kjosfoss waterfalls, where the train would stop for a few minutes so passengers can take pictures. It's pretty cool that the train ride actually slows down or even stops at the best views, and Kjosfoss is definitely worth a stop. Standing next to these powerful falls was truly an awesome experience!

We finally arrive at the quaint village of Flam where we have about an hour before our ferry takes off. My mom spent most of her time here looking for souvenirs while I went around taking more photos. We also visited the Flamsbana Museet (museum; entrance was free). Shortly before 3pm, we board the ferry that would then take us from Flam to Gudvangen.


Flam to Gudvangen

This trip then took us over two fjords. It starts off at the wider, deeper, and longer Aurlandsfjord before heading into the Naeroyfjord, the narrowest fjord in Europe. The Naeroyfjord is now included on UNESCO's famous World Heritage List.

At one point during the trip, our boat slowed down and stopped for a few minutes next to one of the many waterfalls that poured out from the mountains that lined the fjords. One of the ferry people used a long implement that had a filter on one end to catch water from the falls and direct it inside the boat - he positioned the filter end under the falls and passengers then caught the water with their cups or water bottles at the other end. My mom and I were able to get a cuple of cups and even half-fill one of our empty water bottles. We were then informed that the residents of this area of Norway tend to have long lives, and people attribute this longevity to the purity of the drinking water they have here.

The boat then finally docks at Gudvangen. There’s about 45 minute wait here before the bus departs (although our boat was 15 minutes late) which gave me enough time to have coffee and a pastry while my mom looked for more souvenirs. One amazing thing about the café here – I was able to use my credit card with no problem. Considering that Gudvangen had that faraway provincial feel, it was great that it was actually well-connected. You gotta be impressed with the infrastructure in Scandinavia!


Gudvangen to Voss

Now the most frightening part of the trip. For several minutes our bus travels along a level road heading towards Voss. But then all of a sudden it starts heading up the very steep Stalheimskleiva. This was a very narrow road – one lane actually – that had several hairpin bends. Each time we'd make a turn it felt almost like the bus was inches away from falling over. But the scenery here was amazing. You could see two more spectacular waterfalls along the way – the Stalheimsfossen and the Sivlefossen – but I wasn't able to catch either of them because it was hard taking pictures while the bus was twisting and turning. We finally got to the top, at the Stalheim hotel, where the bus stopped for about 15 minutes so that passengers can once again take pictures of the nature at its best.

I just read that from October to April, the bus actually doesn’t drive up the Stalheimskleiva due to safety reasons, and we took this trip on May 1st, so I am very glad that we ended up taking this trip when we did so we didn’t miss out on anything. Anyways, the bus then heads on over to Voss where we take the final leg of our tour.

Voss to Bergen

Voss actually seemed like a very lovely town, situated right next to a lake, and we had about 30 minutes to spare when we got there so I could’ve walked around a bit and took a few more pictures. But it was the end of a long day and we were tired so we just decided to just relax in the train, which left promptly at 7:20pm. There were still some great views to be seen on this final leg, but lots of wires and posts blocked the wonderful views, so I spent the time just looking out the window and enjoying the scenery. By 8:34pm our train arrived in Bergen and we head over to our hotel.

Norway is widely considered to have the best scenery among all the Scandinavian countries, and the Norway in a Nutshell tour is does loads to validate this claim. Check out their website to read more about this day trip as well as the many other options you can take.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Mini-tour of Scandinavia: Oslo

Norway is definitely a country worth visiting, especially if you have gone through the other more touristy countries in Europe, like France and Italy. And what better home base to begin a trip around Norway than in the capital, Oslo.

Oslo is also called “The City of Tigers”. Like most other cities in Scandinavia, it doesn’t really have world-famous sights and landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, or the Collosseum. But there are definitely enough things to see and do here to fill your time for at least a couple of days.

The main attractions of Oslo aren’t very close to each other, and as such I recommend that you get the Oslo Pass, which costs 210 NOK (Norwegian kronor), or about P1,600. The Oslo Pass is valid for 24 hours, and it provides you with a free pass to most museums (all main museums are covered) as well as public transportation - trains, trams, buses, and even the ferry from the City hall pier to Bygdoy (an area where you can find a lot of museums). Definitely worth buying, you can get the Oslo Pass at the Tourist Information Center.

Our first stop was the Holmenkollen Ski Jump and Ski Museum. You can go all the way up the 60-meter high Ski Jump. The trip to the top is a bit scary, but when you get there, you see what a ski jumper faces each time he jumps. You also get a fantastic view of the city. There’s also a ski museum (where you can learn about Norwegian skiing legends) as well as a ski jump and downhill ski simulator that both my mom and I got on.

Our next stop was the Vikingskiphuset, or Viking Ship Museum in Bygdoy. Inside are three Viking Ships – Oseberg, Gokstad, and Tune. The best one, Oseberg, is of course the first ship you see the moment you enter the museum.

We then visited the Norsk Folkmuseum, or the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History. It’s an open air museum, which seems to be quite popular in Scandinavia. It contains 155 buildings which have been relocated from different parts of Norway. My mom and I ended up just going around the area that featured several log cabins.


We visited the rest of the sights of this city on May 3, after our overnight train from Bergen arrived in Oslo at 630am. The good thing about Oslo is that the tourist information center, which is right next to the Central Station, opens at 7am. I don’t ever recall a tourist info center being open that early. So we quickly inquire about train tickets and directions, and my mom and I take an underground train and then a tram to Vigeland Park. This park contains several sculptures of Gustav Vigeland, who created these statues depicting the human condition. The main attraction of the park is the Monolith, a column of intertwined human bodies that stands in the center of the park.

We spent most of the morning walking around the City Center, taking pictures in some of the main attractions like the Parliament building and the National Theater. I took this pic of my mom with a statue of Ludvig Holberg, a Dano-Norwegian writer and playwright born in Bergen, Norway.

Another interesting must-see place is the Radhuset, or City Hall. Tourists can go inside (costs about 60 NOK I think) to visit the art galleries here, but my mom and I opted not to. We did get a glimpse of the large fresco in the main hall, but we spent most of our time looking at the carvings on the walls outside depicting Norse Mythology (Norwegian and English explanations were provided under each carving allowing us to learn more about Norse Mythology. Case in point, I now know that Ragnarok is the battle between the gods and the giants and monsters at the end of the world.)

We made sure we got to the Royal Palace before 1:30pm to catch the Changing of the Guard, which happens daily at that time. They had all the usual parades, marching displays, and rifle tricks. But two things make this Changing of the Guard different. First, it is very accessible. While taking a picture of my mom with the parade behind her, the marching soldiers suddently changed directions and started marching towards us. When my mom and I saw that they were right behind us, we quickly moved away ourselves; no one actually asked us to move even when they were practically behind us. The same thing happened to another woman. The second thing that made it memorable was that at the end, the members of the parade all sang what I am guessing to be the National Anthem of Norway, and they did it in vocal harmony.

The last place we visited was the Akershus Slott og Festning (Akershus Fortress and Castle). What was cool about this castle was that you could enter the grounds freely (the castle itself had an entrance fee) and as such, it seemed to double as a park for the locals. It was bright and warm in Oslo when we were there (I was melting under my jacket but it was a hassle to carry it around so I chose to wear it instead =)) and lots of folks were lying on the grass, either chatting with friends, reading a book, or just getting some sunlight.


There are a few other places in Oslo that we didn’t see, such as the Munchmuseet and the Kon-Tiki Museum. If you plan to spend time inside a lot of museums, the best time to come is during summer or the months surrounding it, during which time the museums have longer opening hours. That way, your 24-hour Oslo Pass will have a lot more value. There are also quite a few fjord day trips you can take.

I also highly recommend the Rica Oslo Hotel, an affordable and well-kept hotel that is extremely well located and very easy to find. I mean, you step out the Central Station and you can see it. The hotel staff are extremely friendly and helpful and coffee at the lobby is free. You also have free wi-fi in your room. We also requested an early breakfast on the day of our Norway in a nutshell tour (it was a holiday that day and so breakfast was supposed to b ready only by 7:30am), and they readily agreed to set it up for us by 6:30am. The room very spacious and comfortable, and it is also bright and well-lit. The breakfast area and the lobby exude a cozy and elegant appeal. It really is one of the best hotels I've been to in Europe, and it certainly has the best value for money.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Photo finishes at the train station - part 2

This is part 2 of 2 posts relating my amazing photo finishes at the train station. This second part is something that I think would be worth televising on the Amazing Race. :)

STOCKHOLM TO LUND

As I mentioned in my previous post, I got a ticket in the SJ counter in Lund a week before. I actually got a seat in first class, because there was a discounted price if you book what they call a ‘Just nu’ ticket early enough. Which meant that my first class ticket was in fact cheaper than the regular second class ticket. I took the 5:35pm train ride that would bring me back to Lund by 9:33pm that same night. On the day of my return this is what happens:

4:50pm I leave my hotel, walk 10-15 minutes to the train station and just wait there to make sure I didn’t have to rush. And true enough, I am at the train station shortly after 5pm. I take my train ticket out and slip it into my back pocket.

5:10pm I was chilling at the platform when all of a sudden, I had the the most horrific realization – my camera was not with me!!! I start muttering one “Oh-my-God” after another in the most pee-in-your-pants frantic tone while digging through my bags, hoping I had stuck my camera in there somewhere. But I didn’t. Damn! 25 minutes ‘til my train arrived. But my camera, or more specifically the 400+ photos we took, was a lot more important to me now than getting on my train. So I hurriedly run out of the crowded platform, while thinking where I could’ve left my digicam.

My mind raced – I knew I had it before I had a late lunch in the McDonald’s next to the hotel, and the only places I went to after that were the café (also next to the hotel) and the free internet computer in the hotel lobby. “Please be in the hotel” I kept praying... Then I realized, I should call the hotel to confirm if my camera was somewhere in the lobby. But what was their number?

I then remembered that I had a Rica hotels brochure with me (thank God I kept it!) so I start digging through my bags and trying to calm myself. I find the brochure, and quickly call the hotel while still walking out of the Central station (I mean, if it wasn’t in the hotel, it was possible that whoever found my camera in McDo or the café might have left it with the waiters). I talk to the receptionist and tell her my problem and where in the hotel I may have left it (I may have also left it in the toilet, or in the luggage room). Then, a huge sigh of relief on my part – I DID leave my camera in the hotel lobby next to the computer.

5:18pm After a half-run-half-brisk-walk back to the hotel that left me soaked in perspiration, I get back to the hotel and get my camera from the receptionist, thanking them for their help then rushing back out.

5:27pm A bit more of my half-run-half-walk pace and I finally get back onto the platform with time to spare. I made it! Or did I?

I put my hand in my back pocket to get my train ticket when – another freaky realization – my ticket was missing! Holy crap, can you believe my bad luck? More rummaging through my bags but I was certain I put it in my back pocket. Shit, it must’ve fallen out when I was running!

So I decide to go to the SJ customer service counter to get help. As it turns out, there was a bit of a queue already and everyone in the counter was engaged.

5:36pm I finally get to the counter, disheartened because it was a minute after my train was supposed to have left. I explain my predicament to the counter lady, asking if there’s any way I can still get a replacement ticket (the 2nd class ticket cost 1000 kronor, and the first class cost about 1500, so that’d be PHP 7,000 to 10,000). She asks me if I left any reference number. ‘Only my credit card’ I said, but she said that since credit card info is sensitive, they don’t keep records of it. I then ask her the rest of the train schedules. There was another train at 6:20pm and an overnight train at 11pm. The problem was that the 6:20pm train was fully booked. She suggested that I just go to the train itself, talk to the train conductor, and see if I can get a ticket from him. I resigned myself to the fact that I would be shelling out an extra thousand kronor and decided to head back to the platform and wait for the 6:20pm train.

5:42pm Completely deflated, I slowly trudge back to the platform area to see which one the 6:20pm train would be on when I had a glimmer of hope – my 5:35pm train got delayed to 5:50pm. I never thought that trains in Sweden ever got delayed! The train wasn’t on the track yet so I decided to wait it out and just buy a ticket from the conductor of this train rather than wait for the fully-booked 6:20pm one.

But then, I remembered one crucial thing – pack-rat that I am, I actually kept the receipt of the tickets I purchased in Lund a week ago! Once again, I dig through my bags. Found it! I run right back down to the SJ customer service counter. I show them my receipt, but they said they can’t release tickets and I have to queue up in the actual ticket counter. Damn! They say it would be a 2-minute wait, but considering that my train would depart in about 5 minutes, I was frantic.

I got number 18 and only 14 being served yet. 15 and 16 were called in quick succession, then I saw a girl sitting with #17. I ask her very nicely if I could swap numbers and she must’ve seen the panicked look on my face and my sweat-drenched shirt because she didn’t even ask for a reason, said ‘Sure’, and very quickly handed me her stub and I thank her profusely.

5:45pm I finally get to the ticket counter and I once again explain the setup. I ask the ticket lady if she could get a replacement ticket printed out ASAP because my train would be leaving in a few minutes. She said that she couldn’t print it out in only a few minutes (not sure why), but she was able to retrieve my booking info from the booking number in my receipt and she told me my car and seat number. She said I should just go to the train conductor and show them my receipt.

5:48pm Another mad scramble to the platform, and I see that the train is there and the platform is clear (i.e. everyone had already boarded). I explain my situation to the conductor, and he just tells me that the first class car was at the far end. One last sprint and I finally get on the car.

5:50pm I plop onto my seat, and within seconds, the doors of the train close and the train starts chugging forward. Whew! Just in frickin’ time! I don’t ever recall having a more stressful panic-filled photo finish in my entire life!

Despite that series of seemingly unfortunate and nerve-fraying events, I sat on that train thinking just how lucky I was. I could very well have lost my camera which, while not the most expensive camera in the market by a long shot, still cost money. Worse, I could have lost 400+ pictures that I would most likely be unable to take again. I could also have missed my train and lost an hour or even a whole night. And I could have paid up to P10,000 extra to get back home.

I have always thought that I tend to keep too many things that I should throw out. In this instance, I am just so glad I didn’t!

(Oh and if you are wondering how I remember all these times to the minute, well, I had to look at my watch almost ever minute within that hour to make sure I knew how much time I had left. Never in my life has the saying 'every minute counts' been more true!)

Monday, May 14, 2007

Photo finishes at the train station - part 1

It started off as a photo finish. It ended in a photo finish. In fact, it should’ve ended quite horribly but luck, which seemed to have disappeared altogether, came back to make things great in the end. Here’s how it went.

LUND TO OSLO

The day before I flew back to Manila, I went to the SJ ticket office to ask about train tickets to Oslo. I had done some research prior to this and so I knew there was a train that departed Lund at 1:22pm and arrived in Oslo at 9:45pm on April 28. The problem was, my mom was still having difficulty securing a flight to Europe. And since there was a possibility that she arrive in Lund after 1:22pm on April 28, I wanted to know what our options were with regards to tickets. I was hoping that we could get flexible tickets. But I guess those would’ve been too expensive. So the guy at the SJ counter suggested that I just buy the tickets when our schedule is finalized. I asked him if they were open even on Sundays, and he said they were, between 11am and 3pm.

So on April 28, my mom and I walk over to the SJ ticket counter at around 1pm and I ask for tickets to Oslo. To my shock, the guy says, I’m sorry but I can’t sell you tickets for that trip anymore. I didn’t get to ask why, but my shock led me to immediately explain to him that the week before, I confirmed with that same office that I should be able to buy tickets on that day. All of a sudden, there was no problem releasing the tickets. I even booked our overnight Oslo-to-Stockholm tickets, as well as my Stockholm-Lund ticket (this is key, because it helps me sort out a major issue later on…).

We’re done by around 1:05pm so that left us about 15 minutes before our train would arrive. My mom and I hadn’t eaten yet, so I thought we could get take-out from Burger King which was just right next to the train station. As it turns out, Burger King had to prepare our burgers, and by 1:15pm I was getting antsy and asked the counter guy if our food was ready because our train was leaving in about 5 minutes. They were nice enough to rush our order, but it was almost 1:20pm when we stepped out of Burger King, and started half-running to our platform.

About 30 seconds after we get to the platform, the train arrives. And about a minute after we stepped inside, the train left the station. Imagine that. We could’ve screwed up the rest of our holiday if Burger King took an extra 1-2 minutes to prepare the food, or if my mom and I didn’t run.

Now if you thought that was a photo finish, wait ‘til you read about my trip back to Lund from Stockholm. More in part 2....

Friday, May 11, 2007

Battle of the surfaces

Have you ever heard of a tennis court that was half grass and half red clay? Well, recently, one such tennis court was built where Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal played an exhibition match. The King of Grass vs. The King Clay playing on a surface that half-favored both players and as such would give them both equal opportunity to win.
(picture from www.canada.com)

As it turns out, Nadal won in a very tough three set match, with the final set being won in a very close tie-break.

And although an exhibition match has no bearing on official head-to-head records, it still doesn't bode well for Roger Federer that he remains unable to beat Nadal on any court that has some clay in it. As phenomenally great as Federer is, he remains unable to find the key that will help unlock the great unsolved mystery of how to beat Nadal on the dirt.

Nadal was actually on a bit of a slump after Wimbledon and up until early this year. Then the clay court season started and all of a sudden Nadal found his form and began to extend his clay court winning streak to a massive 73 straight wins. He in fact leads his head to head against the Fed (hey, that rhymes!), 7-3. You can argue that 5 out of those 7 wins of Nadal's were on clay, which is where Nadal is at his supreme best. But take note, on hard court, which is a more neutral surface, their head to head stands at 2-2. And in one of those matches, Roger had to save a matchpoint before winning.

So will Nadal continue his utter and complete dominance on his surface of choice by winning Roland Garros again? Or will Federer finally sneak in a win on the red clay to complete his Grand Slam collection? It's only a few more weeks before we find out!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

My mini-tour of Scandinavia

I’m still sorting through my pictures, but considering that I had a truckload of interesting stories during my mini-tour of Scandinavia, I will start writing portions of my trip down now lest I forget. =)

Let me then begin by going through the itinerary I had put together. It’s quite aggressive really, and it left me and my mom quite tired at the end of each day, but in the end it seems we spent just about enough time in each place to visit the must-see sights and get a good enough feel of the city.

April 28 – arrived in Lund
April 29 – train from Lund to Oslo
April 30 – spent the day in Oslo
May 1 – took the Norway-in-a-nutshell tour, a full day trip from Oslo to Bergen that epitomizes the saying “it’s the journey, not the destination”
May 2 – spent the day in Bergen, then took an overnight train to Oslo
May 3 – arrived in Oslo, spent the day there, then took an overnight train to Stockholm
May 4 – arrived in Stockholm and spent the day there
May 5 – spent the day in Stockholm
May 6 – returned to Lund

Actually, this is MY itinerary. Instead of heading to Lund with me, my mom flew to Madrid. She spent a couple of days there, before traveling by train to Lisbon (she wants to visit Fatima. She’s supposed to return to Lund tomorrow night. And since she spent a day in Copenhagen on April 28 (as she arrived in the Copenhagen airport 16 hours before I did and visited a couple of places there), she ended up visiting 5 countries in 2 weeks.

Here’s one pic of me taken from the Stalheim Hotel.


We didn’t stay at this hotel, but our bus from Gudvangen to Bergen (one leg of the Norway in a Nutshell tour) stopped at this 18th century hotel for about 15 minutes so people could take pictures. This isn’t the best picture we took here, but think of it as a sampler of even better photos to come...

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Rematch!

Liverpool vs. AC Milan in the Champions League Final to be played in Athens. This is going to be a re-match of the final two years ago, when Liverpool defied the odds and came back from an almost insurmountable 0-3 hole. Game on!

I was in my hotel room in Bergen last Tuesday night when Liverpool and Chelsea were playing the 2nd leg of their Champions League semifinal. I was very worried because Chelsea had a 1-0 lead. But it wasn't daunting, and Liverpool have come back from more difficult spots in the past than that. So needless to say my fingers were crossed...

I only caught the game in the middle of the 2nd half, and was immensely pleased that Liverpool were 1-0 up. I was even more pleased to see that Liverpool were controlling the game a lot more. But of course all that could change in a second so I remained extremely nervous.

Regular time ended in a draw on aggregate (1-1), so they had to play a half-hour's worth of extra time. Considering that the Reds had been the better team that night, and because they had home court advantage, I was very hopeful. But no more goals came, so it was now down to a penalty shoot-out. And Liverpool goalie Pepe Reina emerged the hero. With two brilliant saves, and with everyone in Liverpool finding the back of the goal, the Reds booted Chelsea out of the CL semis to book their place in the final.

And despite predictions of an all-England final, AC Milan brutalized newly crowned Premiership champions Manchester United 3-0 to win 5-3 on aggregate. Man Utd losing 0-3? That must've been some amazing display of football by the Italian team. Which proves just how hungry they are to win the Champions League this year. And with revenge against Liverpool after that 2005 heartbreaking loss on their minds, they will be even more fired up.

But then again, Liverpool have shown themselves that they want it just as much. So maybe we will have a similarly amazing Champions League final in Athens. Or maybe Liverpool will blow AC Milan away. I hope it's the latter. Tough, tense matches are so nerve-wracking to watch! =)

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

So where have I been?

Since the start of the year, I've been pretty good at keeping this blog up to date. So what happened to me in the last 3 weeks?

Well, I took my first home leave to Manila on the week of April 22. And by home leave I just mean that I went back to Manila but still had to work from there. It was one of the most hectic weeks I've had this year, due to a couple of things.

First, I had only one week to meet up with my family and friends (and naturally there was not really enough time to meet up with everyone). Second, I had to buy a lot of stuff I needed, like new jeans and an external hard drive, as well as other stuff that cost a lot less in Manila. Third, and the main reason why I went home on that particular week, was that my mom was going to visit me in Europe for two weeks, beginning the week of April 29. Since we were going to use my mileage program to get her a free flight, I thought it would be better if I was in Manila the week before her trip so I could help her sort stuff out. And also, we could fly to Lund together.

As it turns out, my mom could no longer get on the same flight I was on, so she ended up arriving in Copenhagen 16 hours ahead of me on April 28 (she got there at about 7am and I arrived at close to 11pm). She visited the Kronborg Castle near Copenhagen, which is supposed to be the inspiration for the castle in Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' (she felt it was a bit overrated).

So okay, that explains why I didn't get to blog for the week of April 22. What about last week? Well, I actually took a few days off work (april 30 and May 1 were holidays here) so I could bring my mom on a mini-Scandinavian tour: to Oslo and Bergen in Norway, then to Stockholm. I arrived in Lund late last night while my mom continued to Spain and Portugal. She will be back in Lund late this week, then we visit my grand aunt in Gothenburg on Saturday.

So of course you can expect a lot more stories about my fantastic mini-Scandinavian tour over the next few days because that is about the time it will take for me to write about my experiences and to sort my pictures (over 400 of them...)