Canada outdoors love affair 

​Our first hiking and camping trip together was in Canada during a visit home (for M). Now it feels like a homecoming to me too when I recall the country’s great outdoors, fresh air, clean water, marvellous mountains, lakes and chalets.

We’ve gone hiking in other regions like New Zealand and Norway after, but I am looking forward to hiking and camping in Canada again. I only wish that we were staying in Canada for a longer duration… We would hike and camp in BC and Newfoundland. Choices…. Too many…

Happy 150th Canada and thank you for the free pass! #showusyourpass #explorecanada

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Okay, so quick update. We ended up going for our hike in Canada late-October to early-November. As you know, weather at that time isn’t ideal for camping and hiking. Additionally, we didn’t use our Canada 150 pass since we didn’t stay at the National Parks as we went during off-season.

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Sundays Beach Club in Bali

Sunday beach club for every other day. We were there today, on Valentine’s Day and were treated to a lovely view of blue skies and blue sea. This place is about a 30 minutes drive from Nusa Dua. We took a furnicular of sorts down to the beach. You pay an entrance fee of 300,000 IDR per person.

The current was strong when the tide was in but settled into a much calmer state when it went out later in the afternoon.

The beach club with its popular reviews was rather crowded.

Well worth a visit.

Walking in Norway – Part 2

If you have read Walking in Norway…Part 1, you would know that we were in Oslo and waiting for the driver’s licence.

After breakfast at the hotel that morning, we drove into Oslo city the next day to get some supplies for our hike and to do some laundry. We managed to do two things. Getting fined SGD 60 equivalent in NOK parking for 5 minutes in the wrong parking spot while we checked out one of the supermarkets. The other thing we managed to do was drive in a loop in and out of the city as a few roads were closed and we were just trying to get to an outdoor shop. (Yes, I was still driving then as we were waiting to receive the licence.) I should also mention here that the third thing I managed to do which took some skill…was empty almost the whole lot of our laundry soap for two loads of laundry at the laundromat.

It would have been convenient if the hotel had a laundromat or provided laundry service. We went to a laundromat in Oslo and waited for a long time for our loads of laundry to be done. It was close to dinner time by the time we were done and we walked back to the car with our bags of laundry.

While driving around the city in Oslo, we noticed a few food delivery on bicycles and were just thinking that it was interesting and so urban. (We returned to Singapore and noticed that Deliveroo and Ubereats had also started bicycle delivery service here.)

We had takeaway subway for dinner that night. Thank goodness for Subway almost everywhere in the world. When you run out of economical food options, just have Subway.

The next morning, we noticed on the tracking site that the parcel has already landed in Norway and was re-directed from DHL in Lillehammer to Oslo Gardermoen airport, getting re-delivered again to Lillehammer that day before it heads back to Singapore. We called DHL and attempted to speak with someone who could re-direct the parcel from its route to Lillehammer back to Oslo so that we could pick it from the DHL near the airport. We thought it was silly for them to keep trying to deliver the package to the same place which did not allow such a service and was the same company… We were not going to chase down the DHL truck on the highway and so we asked for it to be brought back to Oslo Gardermoen DHL facility right away. They agreed and that it will most likely reach Gardermoen before 3pm or so.

That day, although we did not fly through Prague into Oslo, we had the experience of sitting at the airport for four hours. We staked out at the airport’s Starbucks for almost half that time, drinking so much coffee and eating cakes, which cost more than the Starbucks in Singapore…and the Starbucks in Singapore is more expensive than the Starbucks in Canada and the US, including the Starbucks in Prague. Our plan was to collect the package from the DHL facility near the airport and then head over to the Sixt rental car office at Gardermoen to register M as the second driver for the vehicle. After which, we would be on our way to the next location which we had not decided as it depended on where we would end up by nightfall.

We waited at the carpark next to the DHL facility for another half an hour to forty five minutes. After a few more calls to DHL, a guy called us to say that he’s driving over in a DHL car to pass us the package. So we had the exchange done. We drove back to the airport and parked at the outdoor carpark near the Sixt office. It was actually not necessary to head over to the office as we found out later after having waited for a while to speak with a customer service officer. She informed us that as long as the person driving has a relevant licence, we didn’t need to register the other driver(s). So driving in the Nordics is actually more convenient than in Canada, the US or NZ. We were required to register ALL drivers and to top up insurance for each driver.

So that was that. I was finally relieved of full-time driving duty. M drove around the block while I picked up more coffee and snacks from Starbucks for our drive towards Jotunheimen. We hope to reach Heidal or Otta for an overnight stay. We reached the area of Otta at about 8:30pm and started searching for hotels on our mobile devices with data roaming and hotspots.

Continue reading Walking in Norway – Part 2

Walking in Norway – Part 1

We left for Norway or rather Copenhagen after Prague. But not before we almost ‘lost’ the house cats in Prague…

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One of the housecats in Prague. This cat is rather adorable in his own way. He loves eating and purrs a lot. These cats hardly wander into the rooms when we leave the doors open. They love the garden and often wander outside. Which was how we managed to lock them out for a whole night. It was the day of the wedding and we were out for the whole day and it was late when we got back that night. We didn’t check if the cats were in the house and just went to bed. We woke the next day and it occured to me then that I haven’t seen the cats in  a while. I asked M’s mom if she has. So we started looking for the cat and kept the door of the kitchen opened for them to come in if they were in the garden. This big grey cat came out from the garden hedges all soaked and he was mewing piteously when he was walking gingerly over to the kitchen door. The other cat slipped in a little more dignified manner when we all weren’t looking.

Before we left the house in Prague that morning, I heard a piece of distressing news. It was 3:30am as our flight from Prague to Copenhagen was 7am. M informed me right after I got up that he forgot his driver’s licence at home in Singapore; about 9,842 km away.

I must be dreaming, I thought to myself and was about to walk back to bed. M repeated again and asked if I had my driver’s licence with me and I knew it wasn’t a dream when it was also confirmed by his father who was researching online for some alternatives.

Why is that important? Because our plan was to fly into to Copenhagen, rent a car from the airport and drive to Oslo and then to the Jotunheimen area, where we would hike through Jotunheimen South from Gjendesheim through Besseggen ridge to somewhere before making our loop back to the car. The drive from Copenhagen to Oslo is about 606.3km according to Google Maps. That would mean me, a driver from Singapore who hardly drives and even when I did drive my Dad’s car in Singapore, it was hardly 40km in a day given that Singapore is only that small. The drive from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia is half that distance.

After I’d accepted the fact that I would be driving until he gets his licence shipped via express air to him, my next thought was safety. Would I keep the both of us safe as I have not driven on the  right side of the road before (in the left side of the car). The driver’s seat is on the right side of the car in Singapore and we drive on the left side of the road. That would mean getting used to this way of driving really quickly. I started researching about driving in Norway and the Nordics when we got to the airport.

So we left Prague for Copenhagen and took things one step at a time. We went to the Sixt counter at the airport to complete the car rental process. As M booked the car under his name, the licence we use for the rental had to be his licence. Yes, we tried…So we got that switched to my name and my Credit Card. After all that, he mentioned about the car we were renting. It was a manual SUV. Although I have a licence to drive manual cars, I’ve not driven one since 2009 and I’m definitely not confident of having to deal with everything else which will be new and to remember to clutch in whenever I’m changing gears…so no. I requested for an auto and he said he can’t guarantee if there’s one available right then. We were lucky. He found an Opel Astra SUV which was an auto car. That costed more to rent.

So now that we had the car and also decided that we would drive to Oslo that day, we made our way to Starbucks where we bought our very expensive drinks and muffins. Copenhagen is a very expensive city as we later learnt when we picked up our lunches.

As my dad was cat sitting for us while we were away, I asked my dad to send M’s driver’s licence to us via express air parcel. He went over to our place as soon as he could that night (it was night for him when we contacted him that morning when we arrived in Copenhagen). As the parcel can only be picked up and sent during office hours, the licence can only be on its way from the next day. We provided the address of a DHL office at Lillehammer where we’d intended to pick the licence up from. Little did we know at that point in time that it was impossible for us to send it to a DHL office as it was a ‘receiver point’ similar to ComGateway where they would receive parcels on a registered customer’s behalf and then ship that out accordingly. 

We stopped by Copenhagen city and picked up some lunch and food for our long drive to Oslo. Our very expensive lunch from a burger pop-up store, I must add. In addition to getting used to driving on a different side, I was also trying not to run any cyclists over. There were cyclists everywhere in the city. Now, that is something we should have in Singapore as well. Cyclists in Copenhagen enjoy a proper fairway. In Singapore, cyclists fear for their lives on the road with impatient and errant drivers who do not wish to share the road with anyone, sometimes, not even with fellow motorists. Ergo, more accidents from rogue driving, impatience and road rage.

The highlight of my drive was driving over the Øresund Bridge. As you can see, it links Denmark to Sweden with parts of the link in a tunnel and we emerged into the light again from the tunnel onto the bridge, which was rather cool in my opinion. Of course, since I was driving, I couldn’t take any photos. So here is an aerial view from Wikipedia.

Just in January 2016, on the back of the European migrant crisis, Sweden was granted a temporary exemption from the Schengen Agreement. That meant that travellers between the Nordic countries will now need to provide photographic proof of identity or passport, after 60 years of passport-free travel, when they cross the border to Sweden.

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Image taken from Wikipedia.

So after about 4km in the tunnel and about 8km on the bridge, we were in Sweden. Most parts of the drive was in Sweden through the E20 and E6 motorways. Once I got onto the highway, it was a breeze…of about 130km/h. Traffic in Sweden was heavier than in Norway, with the higher population in Sweden compared with Norway; almost double. There are also more mass market brands present in Sweden. Like we knew we were out of Sweden when the views of ‘the famous golden arches of McDonald’s’ along the highway disappeared. Not that we would have wanted McDonald’s in the Nordics given the ‘smorgasbord’ of gourmet choices available. There were a notable number of Teslas on the road in Norway. Norway is one of the most EV-friendly countries. The Government laid out EV policies which provide EVs exemption from VAT and purchase tax which usually form about 50% of the total cost of the vehicle. The EVs are also exempt from road tolls, tunnel and ferry charges.

It’s mentioned on Google Maps that it would take an estimated 6h and 36 min drive from Copenhagen to Oslo. We got to our Oslo destination about 9pm. It is a fabulous place called Lysebu hotel in Oslo. About 20 minutes away from the city centre. It has modern rooms, very nordic style and rather spacious. Just check it out yourself here: http://www.lysebu.no/en/.

I was fascinated by their really furry chickens by the way…and no they didn’t serve chicken at the restaurant. The place just oozes simple elegance. We stayed at the hotel for two nights and explored some walks around the area.

Some places we made up the pronunciation. Like Frognerseteren, which sounded a lot like ‘frog in your system’ when we spoke that aloud. We went to Frognerseteren Restaurant and Cafe, which was a short walk from Lysebu and highly recommended.

Everything’s expensive in Norway. After discovery of Norway’s oil fields after 1969, the country now has a much higher standard of living compared with its neighbours, Sweden and Denmark. It was previously about 30 or 40 percent lower in 1960.

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The food was so-so. It wasn’t exceptional. I think it was the ambience of eating outdoors in the fresh air with a great view that led to the perceived better tasting food. It wasn’t bad. Definitely fresh and good.
Apple pie
The highly recommended apple pie…but please go with one piece before getting the other. They are really sweet. Look at all that cream on the top…
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View from the restaurant. It’s a little dark here due to the facing of the camera against the sun.

We walked for about 2 hours around the area before heading back to the hotel. We told ourselves that we needed all those carbs and calories for our long hike in Jotunheimen.

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Walking to the lunch.

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It’s summer! All the pretty flowers are in full bloom and there were so many different plants and flowers in Norway.

 

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Hotel grounds

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Keep your dog(s) on a leash? Chickens wandering? We were just guessing…

More in Part 2 of Walking in Norway.

Pretty Prague

I’ve always wanted to visit Prague. At least since I chanced upon pictures of Prague’s cobblestone streets, historical buildings and little cafes. From the pictures, the city looks romantic and yet mysterious. With its history, Prague reminds me of spy movies and also the TV series, The Americans.

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Welcome to Prague!

We stayed at a house through a house exchange programme. So the owners of the house in Prague went to Canada to stay and the house in Prague became the ‘base’ or all the family members who were visiting for the wedding. There were seven people staying at the house which was split into two units. The owners of the house loaned us their car as part of the exchange. So, most of us got around in a Volkswagen Beetle. We certainly haven’t been in many Beetles and it was an experience for three adults and a baby in the backseat and two in the front. One of the relatives at the wedding who saw us ‘unfolding’ ourselves from the car asked, ‘Did you all really come out from that?’ That said, the space in the car is deceiving. It doesn’t look that big outside, but it was amazing how we managed to have three big and grown adults in the backseat and sometimes with a baby. Have I already mentioned that?

Uber was our other mode of transport getting from the house to the city. 

The wedding in Prague offered us many opportunities to experience the main tourist areas. We went to the Malá Strana district for our funicular ride up to Nebozízek, which is the middle station before Petřín, also where the wedding reception was held. 

It was our first time queuing and jostling with the crowd in Prague. The queue at Újezd station where we had to buy or ticket and then queue for the furnicular was pretty spectacular. When we got to the front before the ticket scanners, people were pushing and rushing to get through. That reminded me a little of China.

When we got through onto the platform, we rushed through the doors to get standing space. Nebozízek did not disappoint. The views were beautiful.

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Beautiful colours on our walk to the station.

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img_20160728_193034Lovely view from Nebozízek Restaurant, where the wedding reception was held.

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Nebozízek Station
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As part of the wedding reception, we were treated to the traditional brandy – The Slivovice (Plum brandy) from Valachian region of Moravia…by R.Jelinek. There are other flavours.
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The little bottle of traditional Czech brandy…

There are other flavours from the same range of liquor. Frankly, I couldn’t tell the difference as that stuff is really lethal. It reminded me of bai jiu, which is also a clear liquor, but from China. I’m pretty sure I could have used that as a disinfectant.

I didn’t take any photographs of the food. We had a taste of traditional Czech cuisine at the reception. If you know me, you would have guessed my favourite – The strudel.

You do need to try traditional Czech cuisine, which actually is similar to German and Austrian cuisines. The similar traits include gravy, meats and the dumpling. The dumpling looks like a cauliflower but actually is made of dough and tastes quite good in the gravy.

This is a food compilation from some of our best food experiences in Prague:

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Duck confit with dumpling.

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Brunch at Augustine boutique hotel

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The fish came whole…I looked to our Czech hosts who were seated next to me at dinner and they ordered the same dish. They ate their fish dish like pros, unlike me.

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Oh, that lovely strudel with cream… I could have that again!

With limited time in Prague, we didn’t get to see many other places besides Prague Castle and Charles Bridge. How could we visit Prague and not experience Prague Castle?

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Crossing Charles Bridge…and thinking that I would love to stay longer in Prague…]

It’s worth getting the ticket to the longer tour. Ours included entrance to:

  • Old Royal Palace
  • The Story of Prague Castle
  • Basilica of St George
  • Golden Lane
  • Powder Tower
  • St Vitus’s Cathedral

The ticket was 350kc which is about SGD19 or USD13 (according to rates on 26 December 2016).

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All in all, do factor in about three hours for Prague Castle. Even so, that was a little of a rush for us before our next appointment. We rushed through a few segments. It was so crowded we probably appeared in one too many random photographs… Of the whole tour, one place which we could have left out was the Powder Tower.

On the upper level of Golden Lane, you’ll find lots of medieval armoury. It gets very crowded in there as it’s a small, narrow, walkway for people going in and out. The stairways are also very small and narrow. In the past, Golden Lane was known as Goldsmith’s Lane and the street outside (below), is one of the smallest streets in Prague city.

img_20160731_145151After we exited from Golden Lane… See how narrow the street is?

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There are so many other places in Prague which we should also visit, explore and revisit again.

 

1 day in Helsinki: Suomenlinna and burgers

We went for a wedding in Prague this summer and flew Finnair from Singapore. Naturally, Finnair connects in Helsinki. So we decided to stay a night in Helsinki before flying to Prague.

We landed in Helsinki early in the morning on 27th July 2016 after flying overnight from Singapore. Our plan was to leave our luggages at a hotel we’re checking into for a couple of hours to freshen up. Hilton Helsinki was nearby and they allowed us to leave our luggages there overnight while we gallivanted around Helsinki town. We packed a day pack and our essentials for an overnight stay in Helsinki city that night.

After we checked out, we went to get our Helsinki Cards from the airport which cost about 47 Euro per card which is valid for 24 hours.The card provides unlimited travel on the public transport and ferry to and from Suomenlinna Sea Fortress, which is the #1 must see place on Lonely Planet and by TripAdvisor. With more time, we would have gone to the museum and other sights too.

It’s always exhilarating when you first start out on your holiday. Sometimes, I feel that I don’t completely live in the moment enough to savour every second that I’m on vacation and just feel joy from every pore of my being. While reflecting and recalling where we’ve been, I realise that it is sometimes easy to take a certain experience for granted when we don’t live in the present.

We took the train from the airport to the city. We have truly began our journey into places we can’t pronounce well enough. Our ride into the city was about 35 minutes. The train ride was rather pleasant and comfortable. Next mission when we arrived in the city was to get to our Airbnb apartment in the city. Before that, we stored our day packs in the storage lockers at the central railway, for when we get back from our excursion to Suomenlinna. But not before checking out where the apartment is. We waited for the bus at the central station and had doubts about the direction… We studied the map again and crossed over to the opposite side, noted that the bus will take a while. The weather was good and sunny. So we decided to walk it.

We walked from ‘KLUUVI’ towards where the little yellow star is on the top right side of the map.

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See where ‘KLUUVI’ is? That’s where the central station is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The walk was good and we got to the apartment. The instructions in getting to the apartment then became slightly confusing as it was stated that we should look for a blue bicycle at the building… we saw about three or four blue bicycles and so we started snooping around the bicycles like a couple of tourist bicycle thieves. We finally located The One. It had the little keypad locks with a key in it which got us through the lobby and then into the apartment. It wasn’t a big apartment but really cute like a place I might have stayed in if I were a student studying there. The bedroom was really just partitioned from the living room, with an IKEA wardrobe.

After getting a sense of where the apartment is, we set out again and towards the city centre again, looking for food. There aren’t many food choices where the apartment is except for a Nepalese restaurant we saw near the little bridge. We went back to the city ate at a cafe. First meal in Finland, Helsinki. I had a salad with salmon. How can we not have salmon in Finland? While at lunch, that’s when we noticed a couple of things:

  1. There are really many blonds in Helsinki. True to the stereotype…
  2. Segways. There are too many of those. (These were just the first sighting of MANY segway users…there were so many more in Prague.)

We went on our way to Market Square, Kauppatori, which was really busy with summer vacationers. It was a bustling market square with lots of food stalls and some selling reindeer meat burger. We didn’t try it. Salmon is definitely a popular item as part of a dish there. They were selling fish and chips with salmon as its key ingredient. For this part of Asia in Singapore, salmon is considered as a luxury as they are all imported from Norway or other parts of the temperate world.

The queue to the ‘free’ ferry was horribly long. We queued up nevertheless since this is where we were able to use the Helsinki Card. We must have waited for about 1 hour before we boarded. The sun was blistering hot.

We got onto the ferry. Finally. The trip on the ferry to the island was hazy. From fatigue, heat, the long wait, the crowd…all elements packed into it. The island was littered with holidaymakers and sunbathers. The island has a laid back feel to it.

We enjoyed the Vesikko. It is the only WWII-era submarine which still remains on Finland. Moreover, it was also a vessel used against the Russians. It was definitely an eye opener to visit the submarine.

It was amazing how that many men lived in such a small space. The engine room must have been very hot and crammed. The beds were so narrow and a bathroom to share among all of them…

We walked the rest of the island and headed back to the jetty for our ride back to the mainland.

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It was definitely a long summer day for us. We retrieved our bags from the lockers  and went back to the apartment on foot as we thought that was a lot quicker without having to wait for the bus.

After showering, we were just a little jet lagged and tired. TV selection wasn’t great at the apartment so we were mostly on our tablets before we headed back out for an early dinner. I believe it was about 6:30pm then. We found a hole in the wall type of cafe just behind where we stayed called Kujo bar or something and their salmon salad was the real deal. Here, we would get shredded pieces of salmon in our dishes. The salmon salad we shared between us was an actual salmon fillet on the top.

Our burgers were great too…as you can see. They do taste as good as they look.

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We called it a called it a day and was back at the apartment by 8:30pm. It was still bright…
Moving from the couch to the bed that night after watching an old movie on TV felt like I floated in a sleepwalk.

Our flight to Prague was that afternoon. We had to get to the airport before our ticket expires so we were up early and took a bus this time to the city and almost missed our train to the airport in time for our flight. We missed one of the trains and we just managed to get into the other one which was about to leave, on another platform.

Upon reaching the airport, we still had to collect our luggages from Hilton hotel and then check-in. After checking ourselves in and getting through customs, we managed to take a breath, have coffee and a muffin before getting on the plane to Prague.

See you again soon, Helsinki! (Well, we would be returning through Helsinki as well…)