Tag Archives: couch surf

Stockholm Archipelago – Boating and Sunsets in Sweden

24 Mar

24/03/12

We we’re in for a treat. Jonas’ local bakery had the title of the fourth best bakery in the world! Before we had gone to the supermarket to get some supplies for boating on the Archipelago latter. Here we saw for  real the Swedes ideas about buying alcohol. Supermarkets are only allowed to stock beer up to a maximum of 3.5%! If you want anything stronger then there is only one shop in Sweden, which is state owned,  where you can get it. Luckily cans of Rekorderlig (strawberry and lime flavoured cider) were below 3.5% so I could introduce Klementina later on.

We bought other picnic nibbles and now it was time to go to the bakery. Jonas bought some amazing olive bread, apple bread and croissants. In the shop Jonas told us that Swedes love queuing where I was a little offended about as that’s a British thing! Klementina and I also bought some nice Swedish pastries. We ate the bread with cheese and an amazing jam. It was all delicious.

[Klementina modelling the tasty olive bread]

[Klementina’s pastry]

[My custard pastry]

As normal we were rushing to get the T-bahn to central Stockholm. After this we needed to catch a bus out of the city again to where Tobias lived, the couch surfer who had organised the boating event on the archipelago. We arrived at the destination 30 minutes late after all the other guests had already been picked up and taken to the house. We had to wait for Tobias to come back to the bus stop, but now he had no transport, hence we continued the theme of the trip and hitchhiked from the road. We got a lift fairly soon form Lift 10 – Non-Swedish guy who went to Thailand. Nichola:3 Klementina: 6 Tobias:1. We were surprised to get this lift as Jonas had told us a story where he was hosting some girls who wanted to hitchhike to Norway and back, but no one picked them up for hours and in the end a police car did and took them home.

When we arrived we were amazed by the site that greeted us. Tobias’ house (well not really his as he was an au pair) was amid a forest and sat right on the edge of the archipelago, where you could look across and see all the other islands around you. It was beautiful. Tobias had managed to get quite a group together with couch surfers from Iran (Nona), China (Li Di), Hawaii and three Germans. Tobias himself is English and from Okehampton in Devon (the same county my university is, and my grandpa lives).

Up to this time I was curious what kind of boat we would be using and it turned out to be a rowing boat. We couldn’t all fit inside it and so there was discussions of whether people should just potter around in the boat as they wished or go with the original plan of rowing to an island, even though it would take two trips because of the group size. I tried to steer the decision and whether it worked or not what I wanted happened. Next stop that island over there! However we stayed in the group to go second, hence I ran over to the rocks and started to climb and explore. Klementina came too. Our group decided to walk around the bank to a closer pier to make Tobias’ rowing easier. We took the adventurous climbing route and the Germans took the more conservative one. Klementina said how this was a trait of theirs and they reminded us of Alex from campus.

[Our supermarket beer]

[My favourite picture]

We enjoyed a cheap supermarket beer and awaited Tobias’ return. Soon we were in the boat being rowed across the sea. It was great. Then we were on the island. What to do now? We grabbed another beer and explored of course. We thought no one else was on the island but there turned out to be others in the house there. We chatted and also chatted amongst ourselves too. Also learning more facts;

  • Tobias gets paid €350 a month as an au pair plus he gets somewhere to live and food as well. It sounded like a dream job as he was basically hired because he could speak English i.e. he could teach the children.
  • Chi Tea isn’t Russian, it’s Chinese.
  • The woods nearby contained foxes, hare, deer and – in the north – moose.
  • Not every 18-21 year old goes to uni – this is obvious, but we didn’t consider it as an option when talking to Tobias as he was our age and we were trying to work out how he had managed to live and do so many things that we listed on his couch surfing profile. We are very jealous of his life. We were also jealous of everyone else’s as they were able to travel whilst at uni, unlike at UCU.
  • “Hi” means shark in Swedish so there is a joke that some Swedes are in the sea, but there is a shark in the water and they are shouting “Hi, hi!” to shore, but the people on the shore just wave back!
  • Tobias had a good experience hitchhiking in France, which is in complete contrast to our experience.
  • The guy from Hawaii even more surprisingly was told it was illegal to hitchhike in the Netherlands and didn’t manage to get a lift between Delft and Bonn. Even crazier he was also told he had to sign in with a Dutch police station when he arrived. This might be true in Macedonia, but in the Netherlands? No.
  •  There are no public toilets in Sweden and you have to find a MacDonalds if you want to use one. Well there are, but you don’t want to use them, Tobias used one and found a plucked and skinned goose remains inside!
  •  It’s illegal to drink in public in Sweden, but no one cares. “In Croatia it’s very illegal.”
  • The UK and Sweden share all the same nautical terms because of the Vikings.
  • Klemenetina’s favourite question of the trip “Have you ever been to Bulgaria?”. When she lives in Macedonia and they border each other!
It started to get chilly so we rowed ourselves back to shore. We then all venture into Tobias’ accommodation. It was really cool and like a tree house as you had to climb a ladder to get there. Here he had a special surprise for us as he was hatching chicken in the microwave! They were nearly ready to be born so when you shone a light through the egg you could see the chick inside. Tobias also said how beautiful the sunset was over the archipelago and we could believe that so Klementina, Nona and I decided to stay to watch it. It was so peaceful and nice to sit amongst all the nature and just take it all in. Especially as the next day we knew we’d be returning to UCU to a very hectic work schedule. Here Klementina made my favourite comment “How high up are we?” when we were sitting on a peer 30cm above the sea. I could see why she said this as we were around mountains and so you couldn’t tell it was the sea, it could’ve been a lake.

[Tobias’ home]

Nona was kind enough to offer to show us around Stockholm. On the way to catch the bus Tobias took us past the only Buddist temple in Sweden which was close by. We had excellent timing and caught our connecting buses by stepping off one and the next one arriving straight after. When in the city Nona showed us Gamla Stan (the main street), city hall and we walked along the port. It seemed such a contrast to the countries we’d been in and it felt a little boring. Perhaps this is because everywhere I had been this year was the Balkans and Central Europe so Stockholm just looked like London to me.  Hence not that exciting. Jonas had told us that the Swedish thing to do is to get Fika – which is what you do when “you go for coffee” i.e. have a warm drink and a little pastry. Klementina and I did this but it was insanely expensive. I spent €8 on a hot chocolate and a little cake.

[Klementina, Tobias and I]

[Klementina’s “fika”]

[My fika]

It was late so we thanked Nona, said goodbye and went back to Jonas’ place. Here we decided our plans for tomorrow to wake up early and walk into the city centre to see more of Stockholm and get our bus to the airport at about 11am. Our trip was almost over.

We also decided to watch a movie as Jonas had a home cinema system. He showed us a few Swedish films and we decided on “Let the Right One In”, as I knew my dad had raved about it and Hollywood had also done a remake “Let Them In”, so it must be good. I watched the very beginning but knew I would be falling asleep during and there I stayed till morning.

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Belgrade – What’s Serbian For “Don’t Cut My Fringe”?

23 Mar

23/03/2012

Being woken at 4am by a police officer is not a good start to the day, but it is expected when you are taking a sleeper train. After a second wake up call from the Serbian as well as the Croatian police we arrived in Belgrade at 6.10am. If I’m honest the view from Belgrade station was nowhere near as nice as Zagreb – a block of buildings covered in adverts with a busy road separating us from them. However when we turned around to look at the station it was actually a really beautiful building.

We didn’t know what to do in Belgrade so we tried to find the tourist information. It was closed, but would be opening soon so we grabbed a cheap pastry from the bakery and ate it whilst watching the pigeons. We went back as it was supposed to be open, but it wasn’t so we waited some more. Typical Serbians (apparently). When it had opened we received a map with a suggested walking route. We dropped off our bags for the cost of €2 and headed in the designated direction.

It was quiet in the city as it was early in the morning and the shops hadn’t even opened yet. This wasn’t doing much for my opinion of the city as it just appeared grey and lifeless (this changed later in the day when more people and atmosphere arrived). We walked past a clock counting down to the Olympics and a poster that intrigued us as it was of a politician but he was anti-EU. Klementina had said how all the Balkan countries were trying to get into the EU which made me think that the UK, with UKIP, was the only country with real anti-EU sentiments. Klementina just explained it was for an opposing party and we moved on.

Our route was taking us towards Belgrade Fortress and as it came into view it was really charming. The stall holders that lined the path were just setting up and we had a look at one lady’s who had a lot of postcards. All of her merchandise was old such as postcards of Yugoslavia. Some even had messages on where someone had posted it before. She also had a lot of old bank notes from the former Bank of Yugoslavia and told us how they had the record for the largest printed bank-note at 500,000,000,000 dinar. Klementina bought one of these and I a collection of notes with Nikola Tesla on the back. Klementina explained how there is a lot of dispute amongst the Balkans about which country he belongs too. He is a big name in science in this area and this was reinforced recently when  I had asked for the name of a famous scientist. Klementina immediately said Tesla where as to my mind Einstein and Newton are at the forefront. Tesla to me is just someone who has something to do with magnets, as a Tesla is the unit for measuring magnetic flux density. Otherwise I don’t really know what he did. Naive? Probably.

We reached the fortress and walked to the edge where we occupied a bench for a long time. In front of us was where the  Danube and the Sava met and here we considered it to be the right time and place to eat the rest of our Speculoous spread  (it wouldn’t be allowed on the plane later anyway). We enjoyed the sun and moved on a little to sit on a wall, where Klementina had a little kip. I was enjoying the scenery and after a little persuasion Klementina joined me to see what the rest of the city had to offer.

In our ramblings we ended up at The Residence of Princess Ljubica which is a museum that is furnished how it was when the Princess lived there. It was a nice house and it was good to do something cultural. However other things were more pressing at the time – we needed a haircut. Serbia was the cheapest country we were visiting on our travels and as we weren’t prepared to pay the expensive prices of Dutch hairdressers we thought we should get it done here. After a semi-wild goose chase trying to find a hairdressers we eventually found two. They were much more expensive than Klementina was expecting, but it was still cheaper than in the Netherlands, so we went for it.

Klementina went first and looked as if she was enjoying her head message whilst she was being shampooed. I, on the other hand, had a very different experience from the man doing my hair. He was very forceful and I was quite glad when he was done. Klementina later said that he was pleading to the other hairdressers to let him wash my hair and they in the end reluctantly gave in. Now was the tricky part, trying to explain how you want your haircut when you know they might not fully understand what you are saying, as English is not their first language. This problem was strengthened by the shop giving me the hairdresser who knew the least English and had to be translated what I wanted. In the end it went quite well, but not perfectly as they didn’t quite understand what I wanted when I said I wanted a side fringe and tried to give me a full fringe instead. Luckily I stopped her before it went too far and now I will just have to wait for this little short piece of fringe on my left to grow out..

As we walked back to the station we were to caught up in chat and had walked to far. However here Klementina had seen signs for the Temple of Saint Sava (Serbia’s largest Orthodox temple). Before when we were going to the Fortress it was too far away, but as we had now walked in the opposite direction and past the train station, it no longer seemed that far on the map. It turned out to be much further and I was getting annoyed as my idealised time schedule for catching the flight to Stockholm was starting to not be adhered to. This was made worse, as once we had got there we did not know the direction to get back to the station as what we were seeing, the map and what people were telling us wasn’t matching up. In the end we power walked back to the station to collect our luggage and catch the bus to the airport.

After some confusion on which station exit to use and which bus to take we were on the more expensive but faster mini-bus to the airport. This didn’t matter though as we were going to catch the plane. Klemetina and I had a dispute, that we still don’t know the real answer to today. I said we didn’t have to go to the desk as we were hand-luggage only, but Klementina insisted she had to, perhaps because she is not an EU member – we are not sure. Whilst I held our place in the queue she went to the front and asked if this was the case. She then came back for the passports and returned saying I needed to go show mine. However when I went to the desks I was not sure who she had talked to and so stood awkwardly next to the queue. A lady then asked me what I was doing to which I replied my friend said I needed to show my passport as I was hand luggage. The lady then confirmed that I didn’t need to and could go straight through to security, in the process she did not enquire about my nationality. Who knows?

Belgrade became one of our favourite airports as we moved through security and passport control easily, the waiting room was comfy and the plane left on time with no hassle. It was amazing.

Late in the evening we arrived at Stockholm Skavsta and surprisingly we didn’t have to go through passport control. This didn’t make sense as we had just come from Serbia which was a non-Schengen country so they should have been checking. I asked Klemetina if we should go back as she would need an in stamp in her passport, otherwise we might have trouble when we tried to leave on Sunday. In the end we decided not too and instead decided to have problems with the ATM in the airport deciding to not work. This meant we had to pay for the bus to Stockholm with the more expensive option of Euros and not Krona.

The bus to Stockholm was a ridiculous two hours and on here we learnt what had happened with passport control. Apparently someone had forgotten to close a door which meant we were able to walk straight out. Others who were waiting for their luggage had been called back, but as we only had hand luggage we were long gone by the time they noticed. I thought this was quite amusing as this story would definitely have been in the newspapers if this had happened in the UK. On the bus we killed time by discussing our mid-university crisis and what we were going to do with the rest of our lives.

Arriving in the city we had a problem as we hadn’t decided which of our two hosts to go to as we hadn’t received information on how to get to either of their homes. I wanted to stay at Tobias’ the first night as we would be going boating on the archipelago with him the next day and then Jonas on the second night. However Jonas came through with how to get there first so we decided to go with him. We navigated the Stockholm T-bahn and met Jonas by the flower shop at Telefonplan station near where he lives. Jonas was full of information and told us how the area was called Telefoneplan because it was where the Ericson headquarters was and also there was a tall building there which the company used to stretch wires. His house was also an old workers house.

At his house he gave us the very important Swedish house tour which every Swede apparently will give you when you visit. This is because Swedes are very house proud – especially because there is a cultural difference that Swedes tend to socialize more in each other homes than in bars. Some other facts we learned that night include; Sweden and Finland used to be the same country and hence they share a similar taste for food, but oddly a completely separate language – not even with the same root. There are more Swedes in the USA than Sweden as lots of people moved there to make more money during a depression and these people have obviously had a lot of children since then. Anyone in Sweden can afford a house with a basic salary, such as a bus driver. The degree that you get will be related to the job you get afterwards, where as in England it is much more flexible and you can get most postgraduate jobs with any degree. Of course we also learned that Scandinavia is not a term that encompass Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland but actually the correct term for this is Nordic countries.

Whilst we were learning all this we were enjoying a true Scandinavian meal. It was pasta with some butter melted over it. “So what do you two think of your first Swedish meal?”. It obviously wasn’t that Swedish.

When a natural pause came in conversation we realised it was really late and we had to get up early to make it to the boating tomorrow.  With Jonas’ help we set up an air mattress on the floor and did a final check of all the information for the trip. We were very excited for the next day, especially as in Croatia we had seen that the Stockholm archipelago was one of the top 500 things to see in the world.

Zagreb – To Hitch Or Not To Hitch? That Is The Question.

21 Mar

21/03/12

Grostilna 6estica was our destination, the traditional Slovenian restaurant Xena had told us about. It was really cute inside like an indoor garden within a conservatory. Tina got mushroom soup within a bread roll and I got some dumpling soup. It was much nicer than that restaurant we care to forget yesterday. Stomachs full we moved onto the station.

We first checked the bus station, the next bus was on Friday. Not helpful when it was Wednesday. It wasn’t looking good. We tried the train station next door and thankfully there was a train, but it would be leaving in 3 hours time. With a long wait happening whatever we did, we decided to  see if we could hitch a ride from the main road. We walked past a sign saying Zagreb on the way to the station so it couldn’t be impossible.

[The train station]

We walked along the road we believed to be the right direction, but we couldn’t find a petrol station to  start at. We took a turn off the road to see if we could work a car park. No luck, so we walked a few metres further past a bush and there was a petrol station. Yay! We started to get into the routine, me making the sign and Klementina trying to grab them whilst they were filling up. However when I turned round Tina was hugging someone. Tina knows a lot of people, but I though it was unlikely for her to know someone in Ljubljana. I went over to investigate. It was “Lift 7”– the girl who gave us a lift to Ljubljana the first time!! What an insane coincidence. She however confirmed our suspicion that this road was not going towards Zagreb but Austria. We were wasting our time.

Disappointed we sat on the grass outside the petrol station and decided what to do. It was pretty obvious we would walk all the way back to the station and get the train. Our hitchhiking luck had run out. Oh well it was still an adventure.

When we arrived at the station we still had a bit of a wait for the train. We chilled and looked at all the graffiti around us, with Tina commenting that these were real trains because of the art splurged across them.

Arriving at Zagreb we realised we didn’t have any Croatian Kune. We’d have to change some of our euros, however I have a bank card that allows me to withdraw money anywhere in the world with no conversion fee! Plus the exchange rate I get is basically business. It seemed obvious to use this instead as we’d get a better deal. We knew the exchange rate so when confronted with the ATM we selected 2000 Kune at an exchange rate of about 1 EUR to about 7 HRK. If you are good at maths you will see what I just did. The aim was to draw out about 20 euros worth and actually I had drawn out more like 200! What a stupid mistake, especially when I had confirmed with Klementina if the 2000 was correct. What a fool.

[The view from the station]

[Foolish me]

With nothing I could do about it I sat outside the station feeling stupid whilst Klementina found out how to get to our hosts Maja and Andrea’s place. She came back out from the station saying the people inside were the most helpful ever. They had looked at which buses to get and printed out a google map of how to get there. However it was not necessary to get the bus as Maja had text us saying she could collect our stuff and take it back to the apartment if we liked. We waited for a confused face to arrive, and it did, along with another male one. This was Blake a fellow couch-surfer, from Canada, who was also staying at their place. He was to show us around the city a bit, while Maja ran some errands.

[Blake]

Zagreb was much grander and larger than Ljubljana. Unfortunately it was dark when we arrived so the photos aren’t amazing. Blake had been here for a while so new the area but not so much the history. This was fine though and we enjoyed seeing everything.

[We’d previously read this ball was famous, we don’t know why]

[Street market]

[Kaptol – Zagreb’s cathedral]

[Here’s a better picture – not by me (shh!)]

We were hungry, but apparently there aren’t that many good eateries in Zagreb, especially when you’re after traditional food. Blake led us to a place he had been before where we had some Croatian beer. Klementina ate some pasta and Blake and I had some Strukli. It was a bit weird, it was pasta with filling inside and something on top with the texture of sugar, but not sweet. It was good, however there wasn’t very much of it. I finished off Klementina’s pasta.

[Strukli]

We learned a lot about Blake, he had been teaching English in the Czech Republic to gain some money before this. He was now trying to get to Greece, as he was supposed to have left the Schengen area. However with all the economic riots and things going on in Greece this was appearing tricky. Klementina could help with this though, telling him there was a definite bus or train from Belgrade into Greece. She also said there was a bus from Skopje too. He didn’t know where this was. He was aiming to get to a city near the Greek border to which Klementina enquired about all of them. After much discussion, “Ahh Skopje, that was it!”. Fool.

Blake was also a psychology major which gave us something to talk about later. Klementina also learned that psi (Ψ) is shorthand for psychology as Blake had a tattoo of it on his hand. Blake and I were also joined as he had a ring of St. Christopher and I a necklace, meaning we would be safe on our travels, but we couldn’t say the same for Klementina. This was almost true when Klementina nearly got run over by a tram.

[St. Christopher]

Afterwards Maja came to collect us and we picked up some beer on the way. That evening we chatted on the balcony and came to the beautiful conclusion that cognitive neuroscience and cognitive psychology are exactly the same thing. Which I was very happy about. The evening came to a disappointing end for me as Klementina left for bed and Blake wanted to watch an ice hockey match online, which was not fun for me. Basically alone I also went to bed.

[Blake being boring and watching his Canadian sport..]

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